Profile: Giuseppe Gibilisco - Vaulting Off Bubka's Shoulders


Gibilisco - Petrov’s pupil; motorbiking passion; Bubka’s heir?
Thursday 25 September 2003
Few expected 24 year-old Giuseppe Gibilisco’s World title in the Pole Vault at the Paris World Championships, although his earlier double Italian record win at the Rome Golden Gala (5.77 and 5.82) on 11 July had increased hopes for a good result in the French capital.

Before Gibilisco only two Italian pole vaulters had won major international medals. Aldo Righi, bronze at the 1969 European Championships, and most notably Renato Dionisi, bronze medallist at the 1971 European Championships and European Indoor champion in 1973. Between 1964 and 1972, Dionisi improved the Italian record twenty times from 4.45 to 5.45.

Outstanding junior

Gibilisco had been known as an outstanding competitor since he competed at junior level. The pole vaulter from Siracusa won his first major medal at the 1998 World Junior Championships in Annecy when he clinched the bronze with 5.20m.

At the age of 21 he made his debut in the Olympic Games in Sydney where he finished tenth after equalling his previous PB of 5.70 in the qualifying round.

In 2001 he managed to win the bronze at the under 23 European Championships in Amsterdam. One month later he did not qualify for the World Championships Final in Edmonton after failing to clear his three attempts at the opening height.

The future of Italian athletics

“It was one of the most difficult periods in my career. The 2001 season was plagued by many injuries. However the words of the Italian athletics Federation President Gianni Gola gave me the motivation not to give up. Gola indicated to me that I was the future of Italian athletics and I will never stop thanking him for the support he gave me after Edmonton”, said Gibilisco after winning the World title at the Stade de France.

Mr. Gola’s words proved to be prophetic, as with only two other medals both bronze - Stefano Baldini in the marathon and Magdelin Martinez in the women’s Triple Jump – Gibilisco’s win could be said to have secured, if not saved Italian athletics’s future in Paris.

Italian records

After finishing tenth at the European Championships in Munich 2002, his rise to the world elite began during the 2003 indoor season when he set his first national record with 5.71 at the Donetsk Pole Vault meeting organised by the 35-times World record breaker Sergey Bubka. One month later he qualified for the World Indoor Final in Birmingham where he finished eighth.

This summer he began his campaign with a second place in the European Cup in Florence with 5.70 behind Romain Mesnil of France.

‘Beppe’ Gibilisco really grabbed the headlines last July when he set two Italian records in the space of half an hour at the Rome Golden League meeting. He first improved the previous Fabio Pizzolato’s national outdoor record by two centimetres with 5.77 and then continued his rise to the world elite with 5.82 which earned him the second place again behind Romain Mesnil (5.92). This result gave Gibilisco the spotlight in the major Italian sports newspapers in the coming weeks leading to the World Championships.

“The Italian record in Rome has been only a step in my career, although I knew before Paris that there was much to come. I have not reached my limit yet.”

After his double Italian record at the Golden Gala he entertained the Rome spectators with a lap of honour on the Honda motorbike of the motorcycling world champion Valentino Rossi. “Motorbike has always been my big passion since I was a child.”

5.80 gamble and more records

He took his triumph in Paris, after failing his first two tries at 5.75, and gambled with his remaining attempt by trying 5.80 which he successfully cleared. He put the pressure on his rivals when he vaulted 5.85 and 5.90 on his first attempts, national records both.

The South African Okkert Brits and Patrick Kristiansson from Sweden were not able to reply to him and had to content with silver and bronze respectively with the same height of 5.85.

Gibilisco had his coach to thank for everything. It was he who during the Final advised the Italian to change to a stiffer pole after he failed his first two attempts at 5.75. “This advice really paid off because I succeeded in my remaining attempt at 5.80 that kept my medal hopes alive.”

Petrov’s guidance

And who is the coach? None other than Vitaliy Petrov, the 58-year-old man from Donyetsk who guided Sergey Bubka to 35 World records, six World outdoor title and the Olympic gold medal in Seoul in 1988.

At the age of 17 Gibilisco had left his native town of Siracusa in Sicily to move to Formia to be coached by Petrov, and Paris was the vindication of his decision.

“In my home town I had not the chance to emerge in the Pole Vault. So the choice to move to Formia became inevitable, although my parents were skeptical at the beginning. When I began with pole vaulting, my mother considered this discipline as too dangerous. Now she has become one of my greatest fans and I want to dedicate my World title to her and my father Carmelo who died in 2000”.

“My first national title came at the age of 16 when I won the under 18 Italian title with 4.80. At that age I was guided by the now 77-year-old Silvio Lentini, who was the first to discover my talent in Sicily. Lentini told that behind that inconsistent young pole vaulter there was the talent of a future champion.”

“I want to thank Professor Lentini, who encouraged me to leave Sicily and move to Formia. If I had remained in Siracusa, where the condition of sports facilities is poor, I would have never emerged. “

It was at that Italian Youth championships that Petrov, now the national Pole Vault coach for the Italian federation, first saw Gibilisco’s talent and it was then that he asked him to move to Formia.

“Petrov has always believed in my talent and in my possibilities. He taught me that only through hard work and commitment it is possible to achieve great results.”

Giuseppe will always remember the first difficult years he spent in Formia far from his family. “When I finished my training sessions I did not know where to go and what to do. I was alone and lost in an unknown town.”

Bubka’s reassurance

Just prior to Paris Gibilisco finished a very disappointed eleventh place in the Zurich Golden League meeting with a height of just 5.50m which was hardly the best World championships dress rehearsal.

“After Zürich I was terribly disappointed. I knew I was in the form of my life because I was regularly clearing 5.85 in my training sessions, so I did not really know what went wrong. After the Italian records in Rome the expectations were higher than in the past.”

”Anyway I met Bubka at the airport in the Swiss city. We had a very short chat which proved to be important and inspiring. He cleared my mind of some wrong thoughts I had after my disappointing outings in Berlin and Zürich. He advised me to remain focused and be mentally tough. He also told me to take Petrov’s advice regarding the choice of poles during competitions.“

Gibilisco’s World title contributed to very successful TV ratings in Italy during the World Championships. The Pole Vault Final was watched by about 4.5 million viewers, a remarkable figure in a football-mad country like Italy.

“I hope my gold medal in Paris will inspire a new generation of athletes and contribute to the popularity of our sport in Italy.”

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF

What a huge “WOP”