“My life was worth it”, stated Oleg Zernikel on Saturday when he became German champion in the pole vault. “The goal in life has been achieved.” That is how much you have to be able to look forward to success. At the age of 26.
A jump over 5.80 meters in the rather empty Eintracht station in Braunschweig allowed Zernikel to increase his best performance by twenty centimeters, defeat defending champion Bo Kanda Lita Baehre from Leverkusen in the competition for the German championship and qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo . At the age of eleven, the ethnic German repatriate child, who came to Landau in the Palatinate with his parents from Almaty in Kazakhstan, will represent Germany at the Olympics fifteen years later.
Lita Baehre was second with 5.70 meters. The first to congratulate was competitor Raphael Holzdeppe, who finished third with 5.5 meters in the third attempt and failed attempts over 5.60 and 5.70 meters. Zernikel has been training with him and with his trainer Andrej Tivontschik in Zweibrücken since he was lost. “I see how hard he works every day”, praised the former world champion Holzdeppe: “Oleg deserves the success.”
Zernikel had to learn the hard way that talent alone is not enough. He has mastered every sporting challenge with ease since he got to know the Ryzih family and thus the pole vault in Ludwigshafen; Father Vladimir trained his daughters Katja and Lisa at the highest level. At 13, Zernikel went to ASV Landau – and his soaring began. He finished fourth at the U-18 World Cup in 2011 and third at the U-20 World Cup three years later. He was nineteen when he jumped 5.50 meters.
But it could only increase by a single centimeter, then it was over for a long time. Zernikel’s difficult journey through the deep valley of stagnation took five years. In some competitions he jumped just five meters. The low point was reached in 2018. In three of the only five competitions he competed that year, he had a somersault, not a single valid jump.
Zernikel not only thought about quitting, he also talked about it. Then he sorted his life with the help of his first trainer, Jochen Wetter. He switched from studying engineering to environmental technology, learned to meditate, refrained from drinking alcohol for a year and finally went to Tivontschik in Zweibrücken. Since then, things have been looking up.
Lita Baehre and Torben Blech from Leverkusen, leaders in Germany, have been keeping their eye on their up-and-coming competitors since last year. In the indoor season he drove with them to the European Championships in Torun. And now he should have reached the goal of his life and thus the end of his career with Tokyo? “No, no, no,” he says: “It’s not like that with me. Now I’m where I can’t stop Now things are really moving forward. “