It took a while, but Sergei Bubka finally got the message.
When Bubka raised the world record in the indoor pole vault (all indoor records are unofficial) to 19 feet 5 inches Saturday in Moscow, he was prepared to spend the following two weeks at home before making a solitary U.S. appearance in the TAC/USA/Mobil championships Feb. 28.
By Saturday night, however, Bubka was back in second place after Billy Olson vaulted 19-5 1/2 in the Olympic Invitational. So, on Monday morning, the officials of New York's Millrose Games were informed that a five-member Soviet contingent would be gracing their Games tonight at Madison Square Garden.
That puts Bubka, Olson, Joe Dial and Pierre Quinon in the same field for what promises to be a memorable night in the pole vault pit. The vault usually draws tremendous interest, anyway, even for a routine opening clearance, but rarely has it been so prominent.
Bubka, 22, is the outdoor world record holder at 19-8 1/4. A muscular 6-foot, 175-pounder, he has brought the 20-foot vault within reach by gripping the pole at almost 17 feet, far higher than others dreamed.
Olson, 27, troubled by muscle and foot injuries for years, began the indoor season in a healthy fashion by clearing 19-2 3/4 for an indoor record in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, on Dec. 28.
That lasted until Jan. 15 in Osaka, Japan, when Bubka went 19-3. Dial was at that meet and Bubka told him in good English, "Tell Billy Olson I said hello."
On Jan. 17 in Los Angeles, Olson vaulted 19-3 1/2 and said, "This is a little Christmas present for Sergei Bubka from me."
Olson, collecting extra Grand Prix points and money for each record-setting performance, brought the mark up to 19-3 3/4 in Albuquerque Jan. 25.
Dial, 23, joined the act Feb. 1 when he cleared 19-4 3/4 in Columbia, Mo. Then it was two records in one day and the current confrontation, which might promise a few more notches toward 20 in one meet.
It is worth noting that Bubka's mark came on a clean leap; both Dial and Olson left the bar bouncing up and down, and were in the pit praying it would stay up.
The Soviets no doubt are confident Bubka can beat his rivals and raise the standard beyond the others' capability of passing him again.
Quinon, who will turn 24 Thursday, won the 1984 Olympic championship in Los Angeles. He analyzed the vaulting situation during the recent Sunkist indoor meet, saying, "We Frenchmen have better technique and the Americans are stronger. Combine the two and you obtain better results."
The ideal composite is Bubka and Olson acknowledges the Soviet's prowess, but he refuses to concede defeat.
"I'm healthy for the first time in six years, technically I've never been better and I've lost weight," Olson said. "Sergei is consistent and he seldom gets beat head to head, but I'm keyed up. I'm ready. My goal is to put the world record out there where these guys can't touch it every week."
Also in tonight's field is Bubka's brother Vasili, 25. He has cleared 19-2 1/4 outdoors.
While the pole vaulters climb toward 20 feet, a figure considered unattainable a few years ago, the high jumpers continue their drive toward another formidable barrier, 8 feet.
Tonight's field includes Soviet Rudolf Povarnitsin, who has leaped 7-10 1/4; Patrik Sjoberg of Sweden, the World Cup winner with a best of 7-9 3/4; Jimmy Howard, who raised his U.S. indoor record to 7-8 3/4 at Albuquerque, and Sorin Matei of Romania, with a best of 7-8 1/2.