(ATR) International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) presidential candidate Sergey Bubka promises more street competitions – much like the successful downtown city event held last week in Baku – to bring fans closer to the action.
While the inaugural European Games may have lacked bona-fide track and field stars during a third tier team event in the stadium, the downtown street pole vault and high jump captivated audiences with top-notch performances.
"I consider this a great way to promote athletics, present it to the public and of course to attract kids and families to join athletics," Bubka told ATR during a phone interview on Wednesday.
The street pole vault in Baku’s downtown Fountain Square – with men and women competing simultaneously, on adjacent runways in opposite directions – exceeded expectations.
"It’s combining sport and show," said Bubka, who consulted with Baku organizers about the event. "When it’s crowded, spectators are involved in the competition and even have interaction with the competitions. This is a beautiful event."
Event headliner Raphael Holzdeppe of Germany – the reigning world champion and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist – won the competition with a personal best height of 5.92m/19-5. Brazilian runner-up Thiago Braz Da Silva leaped the same height, establishing a new South American record.
Five vaulters in total, including women’s champion Olga Mullina, achieved personal bests at the crowded street venue, with loudspeakers pumping music in between jumps.
"Being close to the public creates a very unique atmosphere," Bubka said. "This is more motivation, more energy for athletes to show good results. Such atmosphere clearly gives a boost to perform better."
The street event was not part of the European Games program and was organized by the European Athletics Association in conjunction with the Azerbaijan Athletics Federation.
Bubka said he is optimistic that the stars of athletics will compete as part of the official European Games program come 2019.
"I know already that the president of European Athletics Svein Arne Hansen is in contact with European Olympic Committee president Patrick Hickey about the future," said Bubka, a member of the EOC coordination commission for Baku 2015.
"It’s a bit difficult to integrate, but I have strong confidence for the future of this event," Bubka said. "Europe is the last continent to establish the Games and, step by step, there will be increased popularity."
Bubka, the 1988 Olympic gold medalist and 35-time world record holder is pushing for not only more street events, but additional, fan-friendly competitions such as mall events, sprints on the street or even discus on the beach.
"We must be smart to present athletics in such a way," Bubka said. "When kids see this event on the street or in the mall, we create interest for them."
Bubka said that although track and field has a packed schedule with numerous established events, there should be a place on the calendar for the unique street events.
"We can find room. It is part of promotion to help the popularity of athletics," Bubka said. "The atmosphere and conditions encourage the athletes, and it brings a lot of great performances as we can see in Baku."
Finish Line In Sight for Bubka
Bubka, an IOC executive board member, is competing with London 2012 CEO and fellow IAAF vice-president Sebastian Coe to succeed the sport’s 16-year leader Senegalese Lamine Diack.
The athletics greats are in the final seven weeks of campaigning for the presidency of the world governing body.
"Right now, we are approaching the national federations, to present them in more detail, with how we can promote our sport together and bring it to new heights," Bubka said, referring to the 213 member federations which will decide his fate on August 19.
Bubka would not offer a prediction on next month’s election against the two-time Olympic 1500-meter champion.
"It’s very exciting, you see the colleagues and friends, you share different ideas, you listen and learn from them," Bubka said. "It is a great opportunity through the campaign to communicate and share the importance of athletics and help each other to promote our sport."
Bubka plans to continue to serve the IAAF as a vice president even if he loses the presidential election.
The August 19th election comes on the eve of the IAAF World Championships in Beijing.
Bubka plans to attend Saturday night’s Diamond League meet in Paris, where he will support Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie, who broke his longstanding world record in February 2014.
Written by Brian Pinelli
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