Spikes30 Jun 2015

Driving the standard



High jump world champion Bogdan Bondarenko talks to Ato Boldon for the latest episode of IAAF Inside Athletics.

The high jump is one of the biggest draws in track and field right now, and world champion Bogdan Bondarenko is central to the event's appeal.

He and world indoor champion Mutaz Barshim spent last season battling it out in a series of gripping Diamond League encounters, each driving the other on as they edged ever closer to Javier Sotomayor’s 22-year-old world record.

Though neither quite eclipsed that 2.45m height, the Ukranian describes 2.50m as “the new milestone in our event,” and says that his regular clashes with his Qatari counterpart are helping to drive the standard in their event ever-upwards – literally.

“We have amicable relations outside the stadium,” Bondarenko tells Ato Boldon. “But in the field we compete very seriously against each other and against the bar.

“Certainly I would like to be the first one to break the world record, but if Barshim does it first, then I will have to jump even higher the next time. There are many high jumpers who have great results for now, but Barshim is the strongest one among them.

“Our constant rivalry has forced both of us to raise the bar higher and higher.”

The quest to break the world record is one thing, but this year there is also the small matter of challenging for the world championship crown in Beijing.

Back in 2013, Bondarenko rocked the athletics world when he became the first man this century to clear a height greater than 2.40m when he jumped 2.41m in Lausanne in July.

The following month he repeated his feat to win world champs gold in Moscow, where he benefited from fervent support in the Luzhniki Stadium. The 26-year-old admits that he felt some pressure, but believes he had the experience to live up to the lofty expectations.

“I felt great pressure at the Moscow World Championships,” he admits. “A lot of people had already hung the medal around my neck long before the competition.

“Definitely that was a very big pressure, but I have some experience and I think I was able to cope.”

On the day he did more than cope: he played the crowd like a circus conductor, asking for (and getting) complete silence when he jumped so that he could “be more focused”.

With two more years of competition now under his belt, he says he would relish being given the same level of support in the Bird’s Nest Stadium.

“If they [the same number of fans] came to Beijing, it would bring me some extra confidence,” he says. “For sure I would like to see the same support at the world championships in Beijing.”

And for sure we'd like to see that support push the current crop of high jumpers to ever-greater things on one of the biggest stages of all.

Watch the full episode below.