(ATR) The sky was the limit in Baku’s Fountain Square.
Although not part of the official European Games program, a fan-friendly street athletics pole vault captivated audiences in the Azerbaijani capital’s downtown district on Wednesday night (June 24).
Holzdeppe begins his vault with the crowd looking on. (ATR)
“The set-up is world class, and if I could just do street vaults all around the world, that would be my thing,” said British pole vaulter Steve Lewis. “It’s just a special event that you can take out of the stadium, and it’s great entertainment for the crowd.”
German pole vaulter Raphael Holzdeppe took top honors with a personal best clearance of 5.92m/19 ft, 5 inches at the well-attended exhibition event.
“It took me two years to jump higher than before, so I’m very happy with the competition,” Holzdeppe told ATR,
referring to his previous best. “I will have Baku and Azerbaijan in a good memory.”
Holzdeppe, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, edged Brazil’s Thiago Braz Da Silva, who jumped the same height to set a South American record. However, the Brazilian settled for second based on more missed attempts.
“He’s in incredible form,” Holzdeppe said of Da Silva. “I was very happy to jump against him – a good competition makes everyone jump really high and pushes your boundaries.
After Da Silva failed on his final try at 6.02m/19-9, Holzdeppe, with the victory secure, courageously raised the bar to 6.05m/19-10 ¼ for his third attempt. Although unsuccessful, the German world champion nearly achieved a 2015 world leading height.
Russian Olga Mullina on the runway (ATR)
Ladies competed also, vaulting simultaneously in opposite directions on adjacent runways. Competition flowed relatively quickly as music blared throughout Fountain Square.
Russian junior champion Olga Mullina won the event with a personal best of 4.45m/14ft-7inches ¼. The up-and-coming Russian vaulter narrowly defeated her teammate Tatyana Shvydkina, who cleared the same height, but needed more attempts.
It was slightly ironic that Holzdeppe and the cast of world class pole vaulters delivered an excellent combined performance in Baku, while mostly unknown track and field athletes from third league countries participated in the recently concluded European Games team event.
Lewis hopes that the sport’s top stars compete at the 2019 edition of the games.
“I don’t really know too much the politics, but it felt great when we drove into the airport and it has a real games feel about it,” Lewis said of Baku and the inaugural European Games.
Holzdeppe concurred: “Today, it was like a promotion competition for athletics to maybe have the ‘A’ team at the next European Games, and I think we did a pretty good job.”
Temperatures were hot on Wednesday evening, ascending to 38 degrees Celsius. Despite the heat, the pedestrian filled, tree-shaded square proved to be an ideal setting for the lengthy competition, which lasted more than three hours.
Street athletics continues on Thursday evening with the men’s high jump featuring Ukrainian world champion Bohdan Bondarenko.
Reported by Brian Pinelli in Baku
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