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(photo credit: (Martin Meissner/AP))
Alex Averbukh cemented his place as one of Israel's greatest ever sportsmen on Sunday when he won his second straight gold medal in the pole vault at the European Atheltics Championships in Goteborg, Sweden.
The 31-year-old only needed two jumps to defend his 2002 title in Munich, clearing 5.50 meters and 5.70m on his first attempts.
No other competitor succeeded at the 5.70m height and the Israeli retained his title by five centimeters over Germany's Tim Lobinger and France's Romain Mesnil, who tied for second.
"The key to success was the first good attempt at 5.50 meters," Averbukh said after his victory. "That gave me enough confidence for 5.70. It is great for me to repeat the win from Munich. Maybe I am still not a hero, but for sure a sportsman with a big 's'."
Averbukh struggled to contain his tears on the podium during the national anthem.
The competition was disrupted by constant rain and as a result of the size of the field - 20 finalists - lasted more than three hours. "It was difficult because of the weather and number of competitors," Israel's gold medalist noted. "But for me, the toughest moment here in Goteborg was the qualification."
Averbukh was fortunate to qualify for the final and thanks to the bad weather got a chance to defend his title. Heavy rain forced the organizers to cut short Thursday's qualifiers and the top 20 jumpers were given a place in the final.
Averbukh reinforced his status as Israel's most successful athlete of all time. He has now won two European gold medals (2002 and 2006), as well as a gold at the 2000 European Indoor Championships and silver at the 2001 World Championships.
His win at the last European competition was Israel's first athletics medal at any Olympic, world or European championship.
Israel also had a good day in the men's marathon as two of its runners posted quality results. Ayele Setegne - who is 51 years old - finished 18th with a time of 2 hours 17 minutes and 4 seconds. Setegne's time was only five seconds away from his personal best, a stunning fact considering his age.
Asaf Bimro finished in the 25th spot, clocking a time of 2:19:40. Bimro was also very close - 28 seconds - to his career best.
The third Israeli to cross the finish line was Wodage Zvyda, who was 34th with a time of 2:24:52. Israel's fourth runner, Swonek Dastao, retired after 35 kilometers and did not finish the race.
The Israeli runners' results were not good enough for a medal in the team competition, as the blue-and-white squad finished sixth.
AP contributed to this report.