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Stefka Kostadinova - Bulgaria - Biography of her International high jump career.

Photo/Foto: George Herringshaw

Date: 04 July 1987

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      Thursday, 25 March 1965
      Plovdiv, Bulgaria
  • Bulgaria
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Stefka KOSTADINOVA - Bulgaria - Biography of her International high jump career.

                              1987 World High Jump title with new World record.


Stefka Kostadinova made a sensational impact on the world high jumping scene, quickly rising to totally dominate the event. However, despite this rapid rise, it would take some time before she was able to achieve the most coveted of sporting goals, an Olympic gold medal. Kostadinova had competed at the European Junior Championships in 1981 (finishing 10th), but it was not until 1984 that she started her rapid improvement, increasing her personal best by 10cm to 2.00m. Within a year, Kostadinova was clearly the world's best jumper, setting the best three performances of 1985, including a best of 2.06m when winning at the European Cup in Moscow on 18 August.


In all, Stefka won all of her 25 high jump competitions that year, and several times missed world record attempts. Kostadinova quickly addressed that issue the following year when she equalled the world record of 2.07m at Sofia on 25 May 1986. Only six days later, at another meet at Sofia, Stefka cleared 2.08m on her second attempt to become the sole holder of the world record. During that year she also achieved major victories at the Goodwill Games in Moscow on 7 July and at the European Championships in Stuttgart on 28 August.


By 1987, the question was not how close the rest of the world's high jumpers could get to Kostadinova, but how far she could distance herself from them. She cleared 2.05m to win the world indoor title at Indianapolis on 8 March, and also cleared that height when she was victorious at the Bislett Games in Oslo (see photo above) on 4 July. The culmination of her year came at the World Championships in Helsinki on 30 August, where not only did she win the gold medal, but she also raised her world record to 2.09m. (Ron Casey)



Stefka Kostadinova is seen here during the Olympic Games final on  Friday, September 30th. 1988.

Photograph George Herringshaw.  ©


                                                     Olympic silver medal in Seoul 1988.


 By the end of 1987, Stefka Kostadinova had clearly established herself as the world's best high jumper. She was the reigning world champion and world record holder, and had produced 14 of the 16 clearances ever made at 2.05 or higher. Although Kostadinova had been denied the opportunity of competing at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles due to the boycott by the eastern bloc countries, it seemed that it would be a mere formality for her to atone for that disappointment by winning the gold medal at Seoul in 1988.


The closest that anyone had got to Stefka's 1988 season's best of 2.07m had been the 2.03m clearance by Louise Ritter (USA) in July. At Seoul, on 30 September, Kostadinova (see photo above) and Ritter were tied for the lead after they were the only two jumpers to negotiate 2.01m. They then both missed all three attempts at 2.03m, necessitating a jump-off for the gold medal. Kostadinova missed her additional jump at 2.03m, while the American scraped over to secure the gold medal, leaving Stefka with the silver.


Although Kostadinova bounced back at Budapest on 5 March 1989 to win her third consecutive world title, her outdoor season that year was severely restricted due to a knee injury. Unfortunately worse was to follow when Stefka broke a bone in her left foot while trying to return in 1990 preventing her from defending her European title that year, and her world indoor title in early 1991. Despite these setbacks, she quickly regained most of her form in the 1991 outdoor season, clearing 2 metres on three separate occasions including a seasonís best of 2.03m. However, her performance at the World Championships in Tokyo was somewhat disappointing, when she finished sixth with a best jump of 1.93m. (Ron Casey)


This photograph of  Stefka Kostadinova was taken by George Herringshaw on  August 13, 1995

in Gothenburg during the World Athletics Championships.


                                                           1995 World High Jump Gold in Sweden.


 The magnificent high-jumping career of Stefka Kostadinova had suffered a setback when she missed most of the 1989 season, and all of the 1990 season due to injury. Although she quickly regained most of her form when she returned to competition, both her earlier dominance, and her amazing consistency, began to be challenged. Kostadinova had narrowly missed winning the gold medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, and in 1992, it seemed that the only obstacle which might be in her way was Heike Henkel (Germany), who had won the previous year's world title.


Kostadinova and Henkel completely dominated the high jump in 1992, clearing 2.00m in 22 and 21 meets respectively, whereas the next best total was only one. The high jump gold medal at the Olympic Games in Barcelona that year was thus expected to be a contest between these two athletes. However, in the Olympic final, on 8 August, things didn't go exactly to plan. With the bar at 1.97m, both Henkel and Kostadinova missed twice, and were in danger of being eliminated. Henkel just scraped over, and went on to win the gold medal, but Stefka failed on her third attempt, and finished only fourth.


Kostadinova avenged that defeat at Toronto on 13 March 1993 when she beat Henkel to win her fourth world indoor title, however, further disappointment came at that year's World Championships in Stuttgart, where Stefka could not make the qualifying height of 1.93m and failed to advance to the final. She then missed most of the 1994 season on maternity leave prior to giving birth to her son Nikolai in January 1995. Although she did not resume competition until July 20 that year, Kostadinova competed at the World Championships (see photo above) in Gothenburg on 13 August, where she cleared 2.01m to win her second world title. (Ron Casey)


Bulgaria's Stefka Kostadinova pictured at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, by George Herringshaw.  ©


                                                            1996 Olympic High Jump champion.


Despite her continual dominance of the high jump during her long and illustrious career, Stefka Kostadinova's experiences at the Olympic Games had been relatively disappointing prior to 1996. As a promising youngster, she had been denied the opportunity to compete at the 1984 Olympics due to the eastern bloc boycott, while in 1988 and 1992 she had finished respectively second and fourth when clearly performing below her best. On the positive side, Kostadinova had returned to competition in 1995 following maternity leave, to win the world title in Gothenburg.


Stefka maintained this good form into the 1996 season and seemed in good shape to take one last shot at winning an Olympic gold medal in Atlanta. In the final at Atlanta, held on 3 August, Kostadinova was faultless in the early stages (see photo above) clearing all the heights she attempted up to 2.01m at her first attempt. At that stage the medallists had been decided, with only Inha Babakova (Ukraine) and Niki Bakoyianni (Greece) also clearing 2.01m. Only Kostadinova and Bakoyianni negotiated the next height of 2.03m, but Stefka was in the lead as only she had cleared on her first attempt. Kostadinova put the result beyond doubt when she cleared 2.05m at the second attempt while Bakoyianni failed at that height.


With an Olympic gold medal now safely, and finally, in the bag, Kostadinova took three attempts at a new world record of 2.10m, but failed on each occasion. The following year in Paris, Kostadinova won her fifth world indoor title with a 2.02m clearance, which made her the first athlete, female or male, to win five gold medals in World Indoor Championships competition. Her 1997 outdoor season was curtailed due to an injury to her left foot, which required two operations and subsequently led to her retirement. (Ron Casey)




1997    2.02    Osaka    10 MAY
1996    2.05    Atlanta    03 AUG
1995    2.01    Göteborg   13 AUG
1993    2.05    Fukuoka    18 SEP
1992    2.05    San Marino    04 JUL
1991    2.03    Padova    15 SEP
1988    2.07    Sofia    03 SEP
1987    2.09    Roma     30 AUG (personal best)
1986    2.08    Sofia    31 MAY
1985    2.06    Moskva    18 AUG
1984    2.00    Sofia    25 AUG
1982    1.90    Budapest    24 JUL