The Olympic curse continues for the greatest pole vaulter of all time.
Sergei Bubka withdrew from the Atlanta Games on Wednesday without a single vault because an injured right Achilles' tendon made it too painful for him to run."For me, it is a terrible tragedy," he said.
Bubka, who holds the world record of 20-feet-13/4 and is the only person ever to clear 20 feet, won an Olympic gold medal eight years ago. But the next two games have been disasters. He made it to the finals four years ago in Barcelona, then failed to clear an opening height.
This time, he warmed up with the other vaulters for the qualifying round, then gathered his belongings into his bag and walked off the track, waving to the crowd.
"Normally, I am a good fighter," said the man who has dominated his event for more than a decade, "but in this situation it was really dangerous and incredibly painful. It was painful for me in my injury and, of course, in my heart."
Bubka said he injured his Achilles on April 12, then re-injured it on July 12. "I did many things, I don't know how many injections, how many pills, different therapies and everything," he said.
For awhile, he would feel better. He managed the best vault in the world this year at 19-9. But always the pain would return.
"These two injuries, especially the second one, are a proof that the Olympic Games are not meant for me," Bubka said.
Bubka said examinations in Switzerland last month showed the tendon had not been severed, but the pain persisted, especially when he tried to vault. He took two local injections of pain killers Tuesday and showed up Wednesday hoping for the best.
He tried to run, but the pain intensified, especially when he tried to run with the heavy pole.
The day was a disaster, too, for another favorite, Okkert Brits of South Africa. Brits, who beat Bubka three times in 1995 and has cleared 19-91/4, passed to 18-41/2 inches, then missed three times. He left the track in tears.
"I don't know what went wrong," he said.
Bubka's injury and Brits' failure left open the door for an American to win a medal, perhaps a gold. All three U.S. entries were among the 14 who qualified for Friday's finals.
Lawrence Johnson, the American record holder at 19-71/2, cleared 18-81/4, as did Jeff Hartwig. Scott Huffman cleared 18-41/2.
Johnson made it interesting, needing three tries to clear 18-41/2 and 18-81/2. Hartwig cleared 18-81/2 on the first try. Huffman missed three times at 18-81/2 but still qualified at the lower height.