Bubka Raises Record to 19-6; Ailing Olson Fails to Clear a Height

Times Staff Writer

All the name-calling and supposed East-West showdowns that served as the recurring theme of the pole vault competitions during the indoor track and field season had been long forgotten here Friday night by the time Sergei Bubka made his second attempt at a world record of 19 feet 6 inches.

The Madison Square Garden crowd of 15,106 at the Mobil/U.S. Indoor championships was strangely hushed as Bubka, of the Soviet Union, easily cleared that height to improve on the previous mark of 19-5 3/4 he set last Friday in Los Angeles.

When he looked up and saw that the bar was not even wavering, Bubka reacted by sprinting back down the runway with his fists in the air. He received a prolonged, standing ovation from the crowd, many of whom had no doubt come to see why there had been all this recent fuss about the pole vault.

Satisfied with another record vault, Bubka decided to pack it in for the night and continue the quest for 19-8 indoors next season.

One person who was not around to witness Bubka's latest record was American rival Billy Olson, who had been eliminated from the competition before Bubka had even unzipped his blue warmup jacket.

Olson, complaining of ailments ranging from dried-up sinuses to watery eyes to a strained left hamstring, no-heighted at 18-4 1/2 without even making a concerted effort. He ran through the pit on his first two attempts, then aborted his third attempt shortly after planting the pole.

Other world-record performances in the U.S. Nationals were turned in by East Germany's Marita Koch in the women's 220-yard dash (22.89 seconds) and American Lynn Jennings in the seldom-run women's two-mile (9:28.15).

So, the indoor season ended Friday with Bubka the holder of the pole vault record that had been traded between Bubka, Olson and American Joe Dial no less than eight times in a little more than three months. In the five meetings pitting all three vaulters, Olson won the Millrose Games in New York, Bubka in Chicago, Los Angeles and the U.S. championships and American Joe Dial in San Diego.

Friday's result did not overly impress Bubka, who has done his part of fueling the pole-vault rivalry with candid comments about Olson, Dial and the working conditions.

"I am happy to go back to the Soviet Union after this performance," Bubka said through an intrepreter. "I never jump anymore after I set a record and no one is left in the competition."

Actually, Sergei's closest competitor this night was Vasiliy Bubka, his older brother. But even that didn't prove to be much of a family feud, either, as Vasiliy cleared 18-10 but failed miserably at 19-4.

Bubka, in good spirits afterward, said he was unexpectedly happy for his brother. He also said he expected Olson to make an early exit.

"I knew for certain it would happen," Bubka said of Olson's no height. "Some time ago, Billy told me his leg hurt him. So, I did not expect him to jump well."

Olson, who perpetuated his reputation of failing at the important meets, provided several reasons for his poor showing.

"It seems like every time I get (to New York) my eyes, sinuses and face dry out," Olson said. "It must be the air in the hotel. I used a humidifier, but it didn't work. I felt like I had fish bowls in my eyes. The pit was shaking. It was a foreign feeling.

"Of course, I wasn't running worth a flip. My steps were way off and I was just trying to go on memory. It's been like this the last couple times I've been to New York."

If that's the case, how does Olson explain his performance two weeks ago against Bubka in the Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden? That night, Olson won the competition at 19-0 and Bubka was the one who provided the excuses (bad runway, too many photographers in the infield).

Conditions must have been to Bubka's liking Friday. He said he still doesn't like wooden runways, in his own words, but it was suitable enough for a world record.

Whereas Olson had some creative excuses to explain his loss, Bubka had a few unusual motivations he credited for his win.

"Today in Moscow, the 27th congress of the CPU (Communist Party Union) begins and I'm proud to do it for that," he said. "Besides, today also is my mother's birthday. That was an added incentive.

"I don't think I was in my best technical form. I had problems on the runway because of the surface. But on the last attempt, I coped with all the difficulties. . . . Some things went wrong in my five meets here, but we should forget about that. I won three competitions and set two world records. I'd also like to mention that I am now a two-time USSR national champion and two-time U.S. national champion."

Olson, meanwhile, said he probably would not have competed Friday if he didn't have a chance to win the overall Grand Prix championship, worth a $10,000 bonus to the top point men's and women's points leaders.

"I thought I could pull off the point title," Olson said. "That's a bad attitude to have, but it's quite an honor to win that."

Quite lucrative, too.

High jumper Jimmy Howard, who won Friday with a leap of 7-8, captured the overall men's point title. Diane Dixon, winner of the 440-yard dash Friday, won the women's point title.

While the attention once again was placed on the pole vault, there were a few other notable performances.

Koch, the most famous of the 16-member East German contingent, overcame a false start in the 220 and dominated the field. Her time of 22.89 broke Valerie Brisco-Hooks' previous best of 22.95 set last year. Brisco-Hooks had to pull out of Friday's meet because of tendinitis, but she probably would have competed in the 440 against Dixon rather than the 220 against Koch.

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