Hall Of Fame – Kajsa Bergqvist

IAAF World Athletics Championships - Day 3

Our first inductee to the Blog’s Hall Of Fame is… drum roll please… Kajsa Bergqvist!

Well, this was a bit redundant… I mean, her name IS in the post’s title…

For all the blog readers who are not track & field fans – Kajsa was a Swedish high jumper, a really damn good high jumper.

My first memory of Kajsa is from Sydney 2000. She did participate in the 1997 and 1999 editions of the Athletics World Championships, but I don’t have a memory of her from them. I was first introduced to her in Sydney.

And it was a pretty unorthodox introduction. I remember watching the women high jump final (with dad obviously, always with dad), and then this Swedish blond girl was about to jump, and her name was flashed on the screen – “Kajsa Bergqvist”. And I found it really funny, because her first name was similar to “koza”, which is Russian for a female goat. Or at least it was funny back then, when I was 14 years old. So her name caught my attention at first, but then I saw her jump, and I was really taken aback at her beautiful technique. Of course, the fact that she was also blond and very pretty didn’t hurt either. We will be foolish to think that physical appearance doesn’t play a part in things like these, but I’m pretty sure there was a bit more than that.

Bergqvist won the bronze medal at those Olympics, and this color – bronze, will haunt her for several years – she also won the bronze medal at the 2001 and the 2003 Worlds, until her greatest triumph – the 2005 World Championships.

I followed Bergkvist ever since Sydney, and the women high jump events at the golden league competitions were always one of the highlights of the meetings. I watched her as she improved her PB, and joined the group of the elite jumpers in the early 2000’s. Back then she was consistently one of the best high jumpers in the world, and sometimes she won golden league meetings, but she wasn’t THE best. That title belonged to Hestrie Cloete and her really ugly technique. But then Kajsa began to improve greatly. She set an amazing PB of 2.05m in 2002, and this was the year when she began to rule the event.

First, she won the European Championships in a very commanding fashion, and then, 3 years later – the World Championships in Helsinki. That was a really great moment for her, but back home I was also really excited and happy for her.

In the summer of 2005 I was already well into my 3 years mandatory service in the IDF. I was stationed at a base far away from home, and usually came back only during the weekends – 2 times in three weeks, that was the arrangement. The third weekend I had to spend at the army base. Now, back then we were eligible for a short break every 4 months – a five day stay at home. And incidentally, Helsinki 2005 came right as my short vacation was due. I managed to arrange a really long one, in fact, because the weekends were not counted in the 5 days, and thus I went home just as the Championships were about to begin. I managed to watch all the competitions at home, except for the last day, when I had to return to the base, but even then I managed to watch all of the competitions.

So I had the opportunity to devote myself fully to Kajsa and her attempt to finally lay hands on that elusive gold. The weather was bad, and she had some fierce competition from Chaunte Howard, but Kajsa finally made it through – she cleared 2.02m en route for the gold medal, and she had only one foul in her ENTIRE SERIE! Damn!

I get the chills even as I watch this video for the umpteenth time:

After she won the title, she had a go at Stefka Kostadinova’s record, but she failed three times at 2.10m. Well, never mind that. The World title was the story here, and I was really so happy for her, happy that this amazing athlete finally laid her hands on a World gold she was so deserving of… Emma Green, who was only 20 at the time, won the bronze with a PB of 1.96, and everyone, including me, were sure that she will be the next Bergqvist. Only she wasn’t. She had a nice career, but nowhere near the greatness of Kajsa.

Incidentally, Helsinki 2005 coincided with another great event – the release of the sixth Harry Potter novel – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It was released a couple of weeks before the World Championship. but being awasy doing my soldiering duty I didn’t have an opportunity to read it. Well, I used my home break for this as well, and thus two awesome events colided and created a Super-Week which I still remember fondly to this day.

Anyway, that was her high point in terms of titles, but it wasn’t it terms of results. Her outdoor PB was the 2.06m she set in 2003, and back then the only jumps of 2.07m+ were set in the 80’s. No one jumped higher than that for 15 years! Since then this result was bettered by Anna Chicherova and the great Blanka Vlasic, but it is still good enough for 10th on the all-time ranking.

However, Kajsa was even more successful indoors. Sadly, she missed the Athens Olympics due to injury (I was really bummed, since she would have been a hot favorite for the gold), but bounced back in 2005 to win the Worlds and in 2006, during a meeting in Arnstadt, she shocked the world by setting a new World Record – 2.08m! She bettered the indoor record which belonged to Heike Henkel since 1992, and produced the highest jump in the world, indoors or outdoors, for 18 years. DAMN!!!

Man, that was awesome. Sadly, 2006 would be her last great year. She did manage to produce a 2.05m jump in London, but then she disappointed her fans with a (yet another!) bronze medal at the European Championships, which were being held in Gothenborg, Incidentally, I was actually IN GOTHENBORG when the championships began – I was nearing the end of a trip with my folks through Norway and Sweden. I was sure Kajsa would win the gold and not disappoint her many fans, but it is the destiny of a sports fan to live with disappointments as well as with great elations. Tia Hellebaut won the European title, in what was a precursor for her much bigger upset a year later. It seems that this Belgian jumper decided to fuck with the careers of the two greatest high jumpers of our era – Vlasic and Bergqvist. I’m not blaming her, she won fair and square on both occasions, and she was a really in the zone, but I’m just saying…

Anyway, Kajsa had a very disappointing World Championship the year after that, and I think this was the last time I saw her compete. She announced her retirement in January 2008, and the world of track & field lost one of its awesomest (and prettiest) athletes. 😦

There are several reasons I fell in love with Kajsa. Her jumping style was a marvel to behold – her hops in the run-in, her vault into the air… Her style was easily the most gracious I’ve ever seen. If I were to create a scale of all the women’s high-jumping styles which would represent how much I love watching THAT jumping style, the bottom end would be occupied with the likes of Hestrie Cloete, Antonietta Di Martino and Ruth Beitia, while Kajsa would be the undeniable leader, sitting at the top end.  I knew that jumping style, including her little ritual before the jumps, by heart.

Plus, she was really emotional after big jumps. Just look at those two videos I embedded here. Some jumpers show little emotion after jumping big, and some – like Kajsa, let themselves go. I really prefer the second kind. Vlasic, BTW, is closer to the second kind as well, although she fells short of Kajsa.

Also, it’s maybe unpleasant to admit that, but she was sort of a loser early in her career. Two consecutive bronzes in the Worlds, one bronze at the Olympics… I was always attracted to the underdogs. You just couldn’t be against her and couldn’t not cheer for her when she competed. She had to win it finally! And she did eventually.

And finally,  she was short for a high-jumper. Only 1.75m. This, and her gracious style, made her jumps really awesome to watch, even if you weren’t a fan and just stumbled across this event. She was reallly jumping very high, and not simply lifting herself a bit. Watching her soar in the air, covering 30cm or so above her height… Amazing! Before Di Martino, Bergqvist (together with Niki Bakoyianni) held the record for the largest height-differential – the largest difference between the jumper’s own height and her PB – 33 cm.

Since Kajsa retired we had several great high jumpers. Blanka Vlasic is ranked even higher on the all-time greats list, and probably Anna Chicherova too. But none gave me that special feeling like Kajsa. Something died in the women high jump for me when Kajsa left it. Please Michael, can you be more dramatic?

So yes, Kajsa, you are our first inductee to the HOF. Now you have this to present in your trophy room alongside your many medals and trophies. Congratulations, you earned it!

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