Slovakia Update #102 – Banskobystrická latka

I have never actually seen a high jumping competition until today, and it was much more exciting than I could ever have imagined. I came into the stadium in Banska Bystrica with no knowledge of the rules or the athletes competing, but leaving I feel like I might have to follow this sport and the athletes that I saw today.

Banska Bystrica holds a high jumping championship called the Banskobystrická latka. This brings athletes from all over the world, to compete for the podium. I fortunately had the opportunity to view this fantastic event in person, because of some scandalous connections. But leaving that, I must talk about the great seating and treatment I received. My host family and I were seated in the second row, right next to where the athletes began there short sprint to the high jump bar.

I arrived with my host mom right as the women’s event was beginning. I must say that I wasn’t able to connect to the women’s event as much as the men’s, as we missed the opening ceremony and the beginning of the first jump. However, there were some athletes that were absolutely astounding. Although I don’t believe she had a podium finish, Sofie Skoog from Sweden is my athlete of the night. Compared to the rest of the women that were competing, Sofie engaged with the crowd, and even when she didn’t make it over the bar she still finished with a smile on her face. This really stood out to me, because the rest of the women athletes competing at the event were so stern and serious, it was hard to root for them (a generalization, but you get my point).

As I said before, I have never witnessed a high jump event in person. I have seen pictures of them laid out over the bar, but how they got there was a complete mystery to me until today. Although it might be a bit difficult to describe with simple words, the gracefulness that these athletes showed was on par with a ballet dancer or a figure skater. The way they began their run, each step methodically placed in preparation for the big jump was just so intriguing. The fluid like way they flew over the bar was almost unreal. If you would have told me that they were swimming over the bar, I just might have believed you. The careful arch of their arm and back to just creep their way over the bar was just too captivating. It’s a shame I am 5’4″, or else I would be interested in the sport myself. Oh well, can’t win them all.

Shortly after the women’s event concluded, the men’s event began. The men’s event had a completely different atmosphere than the women’s event. Even from the very beginning warmups, I could feel the excitement and competition. With the introduction of the athletes, I felt like I started to know who they were as people, and I knew who I should keep an eye out for. Who really caught my attention was the underdog of the night: Wang Yu from China. I was told that he was the first Chinese man to ever come and compete at the event, with all of his competitors being regular Banskobystrická latka challengers.

As the night crept on, tensions slowly began to rise in the building. With the number of athletes slowly dwindling, the podium finish that many wished for was in sight. Even though I had no previous knowledge of the athletes before the event, I felt a sense of pride and joy when they made it over the bar. There was one instance, where an athlete asked for the room to be quiet. We all waited, in pure silence. It was so quiet, you could just barely hear the breathing of the athlete as they prepared to make the jump that would decide the position on the podium. We all waited in anticipation as this athlete began their run down gym floor, leaping just barely over the bar. The way the arena exploded in excitement was something that I will probably remember for the rest of my life.

High jump is a sport that I hadn’t even considered being interested in until now. It truly is an exciting sport, and I just might have to watch another competition or two. Congratulations to the underdog Wang Yu for taking the title this year, against all odds. Maybe I am just a sucker for a great underdog story, but the men’s athlete of the night for me was definitely Wang Yu. His camaraderie and sportsmanship with the other athletes was unparalleled, and his engagement with the crowd filled us all with excitement. That is an excitement that I certainly won’t be forgetting anytime soon.


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