Bohdan Bondarenko’s bus back to his hotel after his high jump victory at last month’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco was delayed. And it was his own fault.
After an electrifying run of form over the past two years, this gangling – he’s 1.97m tall – and amiable Ukraine athlete has established himself as world champion and joint European record holder on 2.42m with Sweden’s Patrik Sjoberg and Russia’s Ivan Ukhov.
He’s famous – and his presence outside the Stade Louis II after yet another victory, this time with a first-time clearance of 2.41m, generated frenzied interest from a large group of passing athletics followers, for whom he posed for pictures and signed autographs before finally joining the other athletes and officials on the bus with an apologetic grin.
The 24-year-old from Kharkiv always looked likely to make his way to the summit of his event, having won the world junior title in 2008 and became European under-23 champion three years later. He is there now, despite being in pain very often because of the foot problems which required surgery in 2009. But he finds an unprecedented number of rivals metaphorically jostling him for position.
The competition in Monaco was contested by six men who had cleared the meaningful mark of 2.40m in the course of the year. Apart from Bondarenko, three of them will be present in Zurich – his colleague Andriy Protsenko, who joined the elite 2.40 “club” last month at the Lausanne meeting, and the Russian pair of Aleksey Dmitrik and Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov, who jumped 2.42m in Prague followed by 2.41m in Doha.
No wonder Bondarenko refers to these European Athletics Championships as being “like a world championship.” He and Ukhov, global champions both, have the most experience – but this event is changing so fast, who knows what might happen on the day in the Letzigrund Stadium?
At the last world championship, in Moscow, Bondarenko – who had finished seventh in the previous year’s London Olympics with 2.29m -frustrated a home crowd eager to see its Olympic champion capture another global title with a display that bordered on the daring.
He skipped at 2.38m, a height cleared by both his remaining rivals, the joint Olympic bronze medallists Derek Drouin of Canada and Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim, but his gamble paid off as he was the only one to clear 2.41m.
He also caused a stir in Moscow – or rather, its reverse – as he sought quiet from spectators before his jumps. After taking gold he explained that, in the past, he had got over-excited after asking for support from the crowd, which produced problems in his run-up. “Now I ask the crowd for silence when I jump, but I’d like to get myself used to jumping with the support of the crowd in the near future.”
Bondarenko will seek to maintain his pre-eminence with another victory in Zurich – and he, no doubt in common with his main rivals, has at the back of his mind the nearing possibility of Javier Sotomayor’s 1993 world record of 2.45m. The Ukrainian – who had three unsuccessful attempts at 2.46m after his victory in New York over Barshim - foresees challenging for that mark in company with several other contenders. And in front of a large crowd.
“I think it is best when many people are going for the record,” he said. “It is a good show for the people, and a good experience for the sport.” Could it happen in the Letzigrund Stadium this coming week? Don’t rule it out.