ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Sergei Bubka, the former Olympic and world champion in the pole vault who made himself into a leading figure in the business and politics of international sports, announced Tuesday he is running for the presidency of the International Olympic Committee. Bubka becomes the sixth -- and presumably final -- candidate for the post, a record.
For all his success on the field of play and since, whether in the innovative programs he has developed as president of the national Olympic committee of Ukraine or in a variety of other fields, Bubka said at a news conference that he has been driven by an elemental principle: "I always dreamed to change the world for the better."
At 49, Bubka is -- by far -- the youngest candidate in the race. Asked about that, he said that while he now carries years of experience as an athlete, businessman and sports administrator, he also would bring "passion, energy, dynamism, motivation," adding such qualities are "important for such a responsibility." He also said, "If needed, I will work 24 hours a day for the success of the Olympic movement."
The fascinating challenge now confronting the winner -- whoever he is to be come Sept. 10, when the IOC votes at an all-member assembly in Buenos Aires -- is simple and obvious: how to build a winning coalition.
Also this: how to get through the critical first round of voting.
Bubka opted in amid the SportAccord convention, and just one day before the IOC's policy-making executive board convenes for meetings at which, among other issues, the future of sports such as wrestling on the 2020 Summer Games program is at stake. Why here? Because it was in St. Petersburg that Bubka first qualified for the 1983 track and field world championships, where he would go on to win gold -- in essence, where he announced his entrance onto the international stage. On Tuesday he sought to come full circle.
On Monday, Bubka said, he notified IOC president Jacques Rogge of his intention to declare.
In the very first paragraph of a letter sent Tuesday to the other 100 IOC members, Bubka moved immediately to the values that lie at the core of the movement, tracing them back to the founder of the modern Games, the French baron Pierre de Coubertin.
"Our challenge today is to maintain those historic values while adapting and growing as the modern world changes immeasurably," the letter says, noting that he intends to build on the work done by Rogge, who has served for the past 12 years, as well as Juan Antonio Samaranch, president for the 21 years before that.
Bubka joins a field that includes IOC vice presidents Thomas Bach of Germany and Ser Miang Ng of Singapore; finance commission chair Richard Carrión of Puerto Rico; boxing federation president C.K. Wu of Chinese Taipei; and international rowing federation chief Denis Oswald.
Bach is generally seen as the front-runner.
It is also presumed, however, that Bach is by no means a lock to move into the president's office at the Chateau de Vidy, the IOC's headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
In the letter he sent to the IOC members, Bubka says, "I am fully aware of the responsibility I have accepted and also of the difficult decision that each IOC member faces in deciding who is best able to lead the Olympic Movement in the coming years."
The letter cites his years as an athlete, businessman and sports administrator.
Bubka competed in four Olympic Games, 1988 to 2000. He won gold competing for the former Soviet Union at the 1988 Seoul Games.
He is a six-time world champion. He set 35 world records.
Bubka still holds both the outdoor (6.14 meters, or 20 feet, 1-3/4 inches) and indoor (6.15, or 20-2) pole-vault records.
"From a young age I wanted to become an Olympian and I was fortunate enough to achieve my dream," the letter says. "I was lucky, I had the right team around me, as coaches, as advisors, as friends. And this is my principle of life: even as an individual doing an individual sport, you can not succeed alone. Only together, we are strong. Only together we will be able to address the challenges that lie ahead of us."
It continues: "I believe that membership of the IOC brings with it obligations: to serve the world of sport; to preserve and evolve the great virtues on which Olympism stands; to listen and learn; and to react to the changing times to ensure that the Olympic values continue to reach and inspire a global population."
Bubka said he would present his action plan -- "manifesto," in IOC jargon -- in the coming weeks, promising a "clear vision and a number of ideas about how we might shape the future of the Olympic movement."
In the meantime, the letter says the movement must better connect with young people even as it finds "new ways" to combat doping and illegal betting.
It says, "We must spread the message of the Olympic movement and use its influence on a global political scale as a force for good."
Bubka served as the athletes' representative on the IOC executive board from 2000 to 2008; he was made a full IOC member in 2008 and elected anew to the executive board last year.
He has served on several commissions, including the coordination commissions for both the Beijing 2008 and Rio de Janeiro 2016 Games. Since 2010, he has chaired what is called the Entourage Commission, a novel IOC panel that reviews the impact of an athlete's circle -- coaches, family, friends and others.
Since 2005, Bubka has been president of the national Olympic committee of Ukraine. The committee has developed, among other initiatives, a wide-ranging youth sports program that ties in kids, coaches and local communities. As Bubka said at the news conference, "We are building heroes in Ukraine."
Rogge has suggested that the next IOC president be paid; all the presidents in modern IOC history have served as volunteers. Bubka said it is a "big honor and pleasure" to serve the Olympic movement, and it is in that spirit that he volunteers now in his various roles. Even so, he said, he agrees with Rogge's proposal that the next president receive a salary, saying, "When [the president] is paid, he is responsible." Immediately, though, he also said that if elected, he would donate the salary -- however much it was -- to charity, explaining that family business interests and IOC expense allowances would cover the cost of living.
Bubka has been a vice president of track and field's worldwide governing body, IAAF, since 2007. He and Britain's Sebastian Coe are widely believed to be the leading contenders to succeed the IAAF president, Lamine Diack, whose term is due to end in 2015.
He said, "I am here because of athletics. Athletics, and the Olympic movement, this is in my heart -- this is my life, this is my life, my passion. And of course today, today we have the election for IOC presidency. And I think this is [a] good time to run for IOC president."