Story by Eric.
Yaroslav Rybakov and Stefan Holm had squared off 13 times in international championship settings since 2001, with their most memorable and hard-fought meeting taking place three years ago indoors in Madrid, Spain.
Rybakov had made every final with the exception of one, and had earned one European Indoor and one World Indoor gold; three World Outdoor, two World Indoor and one European indoor silver medals; and had also collected a bronze along the way nearer to the beginning of their rivalry at the 2002 European Indoors for a total of nine medals.
Holm had made every single World indoor/outdoor, European indoor/outdoor and Olympic final contested during the same time frame, and had taken home one more medal than had Rybakov, with six golds (three World Indoor Championships, two European Indoor Championships, and an Olympic title); three silvers and a bronze etched in history's books for his efforts .
Entering Saturday's final - and the duo's 65th career matchup against one another, Rybakov held an advantage over Holm in having the distinction of being the reigning World Indoor Champion (Moscow 2006) and possessing the heighest clearance in the world this year (2.38m).
Holm, on the other hand, had his own running tab going against the Russian - one which had the dimunitive Swede 20 wins up on his rival, including a better placing in Arnstad based on countback at 2.35m. Holm, 31, who has not had a season's best lower than 2.30m since 1997, entered Saturday evening's final with a season's best 2.37m set in Malmö.
Winning Saturday's competitition would be of financial consequence to both competitors, as $40.000 was on the line for the victor, but Holm had one more pressing reason to look forward to winning, and that was to surpass legendary jumper and fellow Swede Patrik Sjöberg's lifetime total of six international championship medals.
Sjöberg, who won the world outdoor title at the inaugural world championships in Rome in 1987, also collected four European Indoor Championships golds (1985, 1987, 1988, 1992) to add to his still-standing national indoor (2.41m) and outdoor (2.42m) records which Holm has been chasing the greater part of four years.
Holm, who has jumped more times over 2.30m than had Sjöberg -- 120-118 -- was a small man in a big event, and was simply looking for respect leading into Saturday's final.
Following an evening of spectacular jumping and gamesmanship, Holm may just have earned one more notch on Sjöberg's belt, though the lanky 43-year-old didn't pay attention to the meet, chosing instead to watch a nationally-televised hockey match.
Holm defeated Rybakov on Saturday to earn his fourth indoor title, and stated he was not congratulated by Sjöberg, though Sjöberg may have gone through Holm's agent, Daniel Wessfeldt, to say a word or two.
"He doesn't have any of my numbers," Holm stated.
One number Holm has is Rybakov's, however, and he dialled it again on Saturday to earn a very important victory in an Olympic year.
Below is a break-down of how the 45th Holm-Rybakov clash took place.
Holm opened at this height and flew over with tremendous clearance. Cuba's Victor Moya, Andra Manson from the USA, Cyprus' Kyriakos Ioannou and Jarolav Baba of the Czech Republic also cleared this height in their first attempts. Rybakov passed at this height, which left all nine jumpers still in the competition.
All nine competitors remained in the competition after making this height - one which saw Holm really inspire, with an estimated 10cm clearance over the bar. Rybakov, Manson, Moya och Baba also cleared this height on their first attempts.
Baba fouled out at this height, but Holm felt the energy in the Spanish-based crowd, and pumped his fist in the air following another excellent jump. Was he sending a message to Rybakov and company? Perhaps, but Rybakov and Moya also cleared the bar on their first attempts, with five other jumpers also clearing this height.
Holm, who had eased over this height in his eight competitions this season, found himself in desperate trouble to both stay in the game and keep his hands around the possibility of taking home the gold - and the cash after fouling on his first two attempts. Rybakov, on the other hand, took control of the competition by easily clearing the bar on his first attempt, and making one doubt if Holm had given too much too soon at both 2.23m and 2.27m. Holm regained the composure which a determined man possesses to raise the stakes, and cleared on his third and final attempt. American Manson och Cyrpriot Ioannou also joined Rybakov and Holm at this height.
Holm didn't play with fire at this height, making a good clearance on his first attempt to join Rybakov, who had continued his perfect evening by clearing this on his first attempt. After six jumps by Manson and Ioannou produced fouls and red flags, as did three unsuccessful attempts by Dragutin Topic, who passed at 2.30m, the fight for the gold took centre stage, with Rybakov holding the advantage and momentum over Holm heading up the the next height.
Rybakov fouled his first attempt, which gave Holm, who sat watching in his warm-up clothes, a very key opportunity to take the lead in the competition and drive the heights according to his plan, not Rybakov's. Holm took off his practice t-shirt, put back on his yellow uniform, and made a very valiant attempt to knock Rybakov off the leaderboard on his first attempt over this height. Holm failed...barely and fell to the mat in disgust and disappointment at himself for having lost out on that chance by a very narrow margin.
Rybakov, nearly five years Holm's junior, cleared 2.34m on his second attempt - the 19th time in his career he had successfully negotiated this standard, and left Holm making a move in this chess match to save his two remaining chances at the next height.
Rybakov fouled on his first attempt, and gave Holm another key opportunity to push himself through to forcing the Russian to either take more attempts here or save his two remaining chances for 2.38m in the event Holm cleared 2.36m. Holm had only cleared 2.36m once this season - at the national championships on 24-February, and had only cleared this height three times in the past three indoor seasons dating back to his super jump of 2.40m in Madrid.
Holm launched himself up to the bar, appeared to have the height to clear it, but he hit it on his way over. The question was only how much punishment the bar had taken by Holm's legs and if it would remain on the uprights. Holm's first-attempt effort, though not technically his best, was rewarded with a clearance, and now forced Rybakov to jump at least 2.38m in order to win.
Rybakov saved his two jumps from the previous height to make good efforts at tying his personal best, a mark which he has jumped on three previous occasions, inlcuding once this season (Moscow). Rybakov and Holm both failed on their first attempts, which left Rybakov, a man who stands at 196cm tall, one single, solitary jump to nail Holm's destiny in the championship annuals as a runner-up. Rybakov looked nervous prior to making his last attempt at tying his lifetime best mark, and was unsuccessful in clearing 2.38m a fourth time. Holm, for the fourth time in his incredible history, earned the right to be named World Indoor Champion.
Holm let out a loud roar in front of the supportive crowd - and in full view of 9 million Swedes glued to the television - and immediately asked the bar to be raised up to 2.41m - a height which is greater than his personal best and sits at exactly Sjöberg's national indoor record.
Holm moved his tape back a few centimetres in order to gain the maximum speed he would need to topple his personal best and tie both the Swedish indoor record and the European Indoor record, which Sjöberg also holds. His first run-up to the bar was excellent -- he was able to transfer his speed into an explosive jump up to the bar, but he was not able to twist his body over it on his first attempt. His second - and final after one miss at 2.38m - would also not produce the desired result of being equal with Sjöberg on paper.
So for the 14th time in the dynamic duo's history, Holm and Rybakov faced off in an international championship setting.
And, for the 43rd time against 22 losses, Holm was able to one-up his Russian counterpart and nail his spot in the history by tying Cuban Javier Sotomayor's World Indoor Championship tally of four gold medals (1989, 1993, 1995, 1999).
Now it's simply for Holm to stop believing a notion that he is, "just Stefan Holm", as he put it to Swedish newspaper Expressen. Holm states that Sjöberg is still best among the two - a fact which Sjöberg readily accepts until Holm can jump as high as Sjöberg did either indoors or outdoors.
Holm appreciates the duals with Rybakov, stating to Expressen:
"I can't say that I enjoy being in that situation - being under stress with two misses, but I am comfortable competing man-to-man like against Rybakov. He knows that if it is just he and I left in a competition, I won't give up, and that must make it very heavy for him."
Holm's indoor season concluded on Saturday, and now all that remains for him is to defend his Olympic title against Rybakov and any other takers in bragging rights for the best jumper during a four-year period. Not even Sjöberg, who had a 12-year streak at 2.30m or above, has the distinction of being called Olympic champion.
IAAF World Indoor Championships
Men's High Jump
1 315 Stefan Holm SWE 2.36m (fourth world indoor title)
2 292 Yaroslav Rybakov RUS 2.34m
3 72 Kyriakos Ioannou CYP 2.30m
3 349 Andra Manson USA 2.30m
5 68 Víctor Moya CUB 2.27m
6 370 Jesse Williams USA 2.27m
6 308 Dragutin Topic SRB 2.27m
8 51 Michael Mason CAN 2.27m
9 74 Jaroslav Bába CZE 2.23m
Foto credits: Aftonbladet