DONETSK, Ukraine — Under the watchful eye of Sergei Bubka himself, it was perfect symmetry as Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie cleared 6.16 meters (20 feet, 2.5 inches) to break the indoor pole vault world record in the same Ukrainian city of Donetsk more than 20 years later.
It felt like fate unfolding, with Bubka revealing he had spoken to Lavillenie about his record the night before.
"For me, Bubka remains one of the best athletes of all time — of course in pole vault, but in track and field in general. And to think that I’ve beaten him — it was unthinkable just a few years ago," Lavillenie said on French news channel BFM TV, which captured the feat. "My phone is ringing every 15 seconds. There it goes again. I have moved into another dimension … it’s just pure joy."
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With Bubka cheering from the stands in Donetsk on Saturday, Lavillenie cleared the bar comfortably in Bubka’s home city, almost to the day the pole vault great achieved 6.15 on Feb. 21, 1993.
"I had 10 great days of training, so I knew coming in that I was in good shape, my warm up was perfect," Lavillenie said. "I felt like I really could to do something — perhaps not doing it so easily."
Lavillenie, the reigning Olympic champion, was congratulated by Bubka, who had stood to applaud.
"I think it’s going to take me some time to come back to earth because it’s incredible," Lavillenie said. "This is a world record that is so mythical, and to clear it on the first jump, without touching (the bar) — there’s nothing to say. It’s just a moment to savor."
Stunned, Lavillenie even looked up to make sure he was not dreaming.
He wasn’t. The bar was still there and, in fact, he was not even close to touching it, so good was his jump. He cleared it so easily that he could well have beaten the record by even more.
Holding his head in his hands in disbelief, Lavillenie looked wild-eyed and then pumped his arms in delight, before running with his arms outstretched to soak up the atmosphere.
"I almost didn’t know what was happening," Lavillenie said. "I lifted off the ground. I went over the bar, and then what? Loud noise, everybody’s hugging you — it’s simply incredible."
Bubka, the Olympic champion in 1988, set multiple indoor and outdoor world records including the top seven indoor marks. He hugged Lavillenie and was quick to praise his successor.
"It’s great, a historical moment. It’s really an incredible performance," Bubka told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "I’m very happy I passed the baton to such a great athlete and such a great personality and role model.
"I always felt it can happen. I hoped it would be soon," Bubka added. "I said the other day he has taken another step. He has moved to another level, he’s ready."
The two Olympic gold medalists had even speculated about the record on Friday night.
"This is great for athletics, great for the sport," Bubka told AP. "Renaud has everything. He has the skills and the knowledge."
Bubka still holds the outdoor record of 6.14 in 1994 — although he thinks Lavillenie could threaten that one, too.
"Of course, for sure. I think so," Bubka said. "When I retired, I knew it was time for a new generation. This is my duty, my job to serve athletics and help the new athletes to be successful."
Lavillenie’s coach Philippe D’Encausse felt the record was coming.
"I’m convinced that, over the last 15 days, he’s been thinking about this every morning," D’Encausse said. "This guy is passionate about sport, and I think that’s a good example for young athletes."
Jean Galfione, the 1996 Olympic champion and one of Bubka’s former rivals, praised his countryman.
"It’s absolutely incredible that he did this so quickly," the 42-year-old Galfione said. "Am I surprised? No, I’ve been watching him for a long time."