Remember when... Sweden's Patrik Sjoberg raised the bar for high jumpers

Patrik Sjoberg clearing a high jump world record of 2.42m in Stockholm in 1987
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Patrik Sjoberg clearing a high jump world record of 2.42m in Stockholm in 1987

With well established World Athletics and European Athletics indoor circuits and a history of indoor athletics that stretches back to the mid-19th century, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the defining feature of the sport, world records, have only been in existence for little more than 33 years.

The IAAF decided that world indoor records would be ratified from 1 January 1987 and the first athlete to set an official world indoor record in a field event was Swedish high jumper Patrik Sjoberg.

Sjoberg clinched the competition in the Greek port city of Pireaus, just south of Athens, on 1 February that year when he cleared 2.31m at the first time of asking and immediately asked for the bar to be raised to a world record height of 2.41m.

The gangling 2.00m-tall jumper with flowing blond locks then delighted the several thousand-strong crowd at what was then a regular stop on the international indoor circuit by propelling himself off the Mondo surface and flying over the bar at the second time of asking in the Peace and Friendship Stadium.

It was something of a surprise to onlookers that Sjoberg took indoor high jumping into new territory on that Sunday afternoon.

His career had been on a rapid upward trajectory since he took an Olympic Games silver medal in 1984 while still a teenager, after having placed just third at the previous year’s European Athletics Junior Championships.

He’d added the 1985 World Indoor Games and 1985 European Athletics Indoor Championships titles to his burgeoning collection but 1986 had been an erratic year blighted by some injury issues and he had to settle for sixth at both of the European championships, indoors and out.

However, perhaps a small clue Sjoberg’s shape had come just over four months before when he finished his 1986 season with a clearance of 2.34m when winning in Catania, Italy.

“I also knew the Pireaus stadium and track well,” he was later to say. “I won my European indoor title there in 1985, which was my first major title although I’d won Olympic silver. I felt confident when I competed there.”

Sjoberg’s feat in Pireaus, the indoor stadium having been officially opened two years before and just two weeks before that year’s European Athletics Indoor Championships, proved to be just the start of a fantastic year for Sjoberg.

He took his second European indoor title and then add the world record outdoors during the summer when he cleared 2.42m – which is still a European record – at the famed DN Galan meeting in front of his family and friend’s in Stockholm’s Olympic Stadium.

His year came to a climax when he won at the World Championships in Rome in September.

Sjoberg went on to have a long and illustrious career, taking two more European indoor titles and winning medals at the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games, before finally retiring in 1998.

His legacy cam be seen in the 21st century when compatriots Kajsa Bergqvist and Stefan Holm went on to win global high jump titles and quoted him as their inspiration, watching him conquer the world while they were still impressionable youngsters.

Pireaus can also lay claim an impressive history, one year after Sjoberg cleared a men’s indoor world record, Bulgaria’s Stefka Kostadinova went over 2.06m on the same Mondo track for her second women’s world indoor record.

The Peace and Friendship Stadium underwent extensive renovation ahead of the 2004 Olympic Games, when it hosted the volleyball competition, and with an upgraded Mondo surface was the venue for the 2007 and 2009 Balkan Indoor Championships.