London 2012: Lewis left to wonder

Beagles pole vaulter edged out

Newham & Essex Beagles Steve Lewis made history with a fine fifth place in a tense pole vault final at the Olympic Stadium tonight.

Lewis managed a second-time clearance at 5.75m but was unsuccessful in his three attempts at 5.85m, which would have been a new personal best and British record.

His efforts eclipsed those of Dick Webster, who finished in a share of sixth place at the 1936 Berlin Games.

But, having seen his Olympic Village roommate Greg Rutherford claim an unexpected long jump gold, Lewis admitted he was frustrated not to get onto the podium himself.

He said: “It was an amazing final. Conditions were perfect and I gave it my best shot. It was my second best this season and in my career.

“But I’m a bit disappointed not to finish in the medals. I set my targets high and as soon as Greg won his medal, my nerves dropped and I was ready to go.

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“I came and did my thing, but I’ve got more work to do. There are positives, though. I’ve finished fifth at an Olympics.”

Lewis, having failed three times at 5.45m in Beijing four years ago, arrived at the London 2012 Games on the back of a new PB of 5.82m set in Poland only a few weeks ago.

That mark saw Lewis break a 14-year-old British record and he qualified for the final with a first-time clearance of 5.50m, only to catch the bar with his feet when he first attempted that height this evening.

Lewis made no mistake at the second time of asking and passed at 5.65m, along with Russia’s Evgeny Lukyanenko and Malte Mohr, of Germany.

Five of his fellow finalists went out of the competition at that stage, including defending champion Steven Hooker of Australia, which left nine standing as the bar was raised to 5.75m.

Dmitry Starodubtsev (Russia) and Renaud Lavillenie (France) were the only ones to safely clear that mark with their first attempts, but Lukyanenko and Germany’s Raphael Holzdeppe managed it with their second efforts.

Lewis, after kicking the bar off first time around, found the necessary speed to attack the take-off mark with his next vault and got his arms out of the way just in time to clear the bar before acknowledging the roars of the Olympic Stadium crowd.

The 26-year-old Lewis was starting to look like a potential medal candidate himself as only six men progressed to the next height at 5.85m, which would have been a new British best.

Lewis wasn’t far away with his first attempt, as his left thigh brushed the bar to knock it off, and four others also failed, before Lavillenie strengthened his claim for gold with a superb clearance to maintain his perfect record on the night.

Lewis, who started vaulting at the age of 13 in his native Stoke, appeared to get his run-up all wrong with his second effort and did not even attempt a proper clearance, dipping way under the bar and casting a rueful look back towards coach Dan Pfaff in the stands.

He then saw German duo Bjorn Otto and Raphael Holzdeppe go over to assume the silver and bronze medal positions before making his third and final bid at a new career best.

Lewis, who has admitted in the past to talking to his poles to make sure they are on good terms, attacked the box and came so close to making the height, but as he dropped to the mat his hands went to his head as he saw the bar following him down.

“I gave 5.85 a real good shot and went out fighting,” added Lewis. “I had one more pole in my bag for 5.91, but I’m proud of myself, proud to be a part of these Olympics and proud to be British.

“You can see my progression. I’m jumping national records, I’m in the mix. Top five in the Olympics is pretty solid, but I’ll keep working my ass off and come back stronger.”

As for the medals, Holzdeppe was first over at 5.91m, before Otto followed him and Lavillenie suffered his first failure of the night.

The Frenchman, with a career best of 6.03m and unbeaten outdoors in 2012, passed his next attempts to raise the bar to 5.97m, knowing the German duo had never reached such heights.

Lavillenie then watched them fail twice, before setting a new Olympic record to regain first place.

Otto asked for the bar to be raised to 6.02m in one last-ditch attempt to snatch gold, but it failed and Lavillenie was crowned champion after an unsuccessful bid to go over at 6.07m.

“Those three guys were incredible, it was an amazing competition,” added Lewis.

“I’ll be back in competition next week, then the next Diamond League meeting.

“You’ve got to be at this level to push onto the podium. It came off for Greg, but for me, I was just 10 centimetres away!”