Without question, Bubka was the brightest star of the 1997 championships. Here was a man who, at 33, and struggling to regain fitness after an Achilles tendon operation in December 1996, could have been excused had he come up short on this occasion. But no, instead he sailed over the greatest height ever cleared in a major international championship to become world champion for the sixth time over a 14year span, a sequence that will probably never be matched in any event.
The 5.70 he cleared in the qualifying competition was his best for the season, and after making that height at the second try in the final he coolly passed 5.80 and 5.86. With the bar at 5.91 and with Tarasov and Starkey still in contention, Bubka had to clear – or finish an ignominious seventh. At the second attempt he cleared to take the lead, followed by Tarasov (2nd attempt) and Starkey (3rd attempt). Tarasov then cleared 5.96 first time, Starkey had one failure and Bubka passed! The bar went up to 6.01: Starkey and Tarasov failed their first attempts ... Bubka, with a frighteningly intense look in his eyes, determination personified, cleared with plenty to spare.
It was all over although Starkey did have one more try at 6.01, and Tarasov reserved his two remaining attempts for 6.06. It was an astonishing performance under any circumstances, but from a man who because of continuing Achilles tendon problems, had only started jogging in April and had completed only three pole vault training sessions that year, it was practically miraculous. “My participation was a big risk because pain in my Achilles tendon is still with me,” said Bubka. “It was not my best title, but it was the most difficult.”