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Brad Walker and Alex Averbukh pushed each other to new heights - at least for this season - during a thrilling pole vault showdown at the 70th Israeli Track and Field Championships Tuesday night at Hadar Yosef Stadium in Tel Aviv.
Walker, the reigning world indoor champ, won out with a 5.90-meter jump, shattering the championship record and matching the best result ever recorded in Israel. He then took three attempts at 6.04m, which would have given him the American record, but came up short by the smallest of margins.
Averbukh, the reigning European champ, set a season best with a 5.80m effort.
Walker called his efforts "really encouraging" and said that he thinks he can take the American record this season.
"In my last few meets, I've felt really good and this is one of the fastest tracks I've ever been on, so jumping high is the thing to do," he said.
He added that he was using a new pole, the biggest he's ever jumped with, for the first time. He said that he would review the film together with his coach to see what went wrong and hoped that he would have a chance to attempt the record again during his upcoming meets in Europe.
Walker added that he was "super impressed" with the conditions at the competition, citing the facilities, food, beach and weather.
Averbukh, who was leading with a 5.80m result before Walker passed him, was also pleased with how things went.
"I'm very happy to have jumped 5.80 today. Only three other Europeans have done that this year," Averbukh said in anticipation of the upcoming European Championships in Sweden.
"I want to jump 5.80 at least one more time before Goteberg," adding that he is scheduled to compete in Thessalon ki, Greece, on July 24 and one week later in Germany. He then plans a training camp in Sweden leading up to the championships.
Averbukh was a little surprised with his form, but said he is peaking now and plans to peak again in Sweden. "I'm happy just to have had a chance to jump 5.90. The more you try those heights, the better you get... I think I'm getting back to the form I was in three years ago."
After the other visiting vaulters, Dutchman Christian Timminga and Russian Andrey Chemov, failed to make 5.45m, only Averbukh and Walker were left.
They each cleared 5.50 on their first tries and then decided to skip the next scheduled height, 5.60m. Both went through the bar at 5.70m, but Averbukh sailed over on his second try.
Walker struggled a bit, later explaining that he just wasn't using big enough poles for the speed of the track. With his back to the wall, he came through on his third and final attempt.
Averbukh, to the delight of the 1,500 on hand - including his two young daughters - then went over 5.80m on his first try, celebrating with a fist pump.
Walker skipped the height and the showdown moved to 5.90m.
While Walker nailed it on first try, Averbukh clipped the bar an his first, landed on it on his second and came up short on his third, handing the win to Walker.
"I know Alex is going to be strong," Walker said afterwards. "He looked great at 5.90 and he can make it."
In other events, Shai Shalev captured a record 10th national championship in the shot put with his hurl of 16.34m.
In the 1500 meters, Itai Megidi won his fourth national title after pulling away from the field 1,100 meters into the race. In the sprint for second, Ezra Mekonen and Avihai Goodman were neck and neck going down the home stretch before Goodman fell to the ground meters in front of the line. He rolled over and crawled across the line to eek out third place.
The women's version featured a similar Israeli breakaway, but this time, the Israeli made a move closer to the finish line. Coming around the final turn, Dua Hativ-Soliman was even with Marilena Sofocleous of Cyprus before she started her finishing kick. She created a gap of nearly four seconds over the last 100 meters to take her fourth national title.
Although Yevgeniya Zabolotniy didn't set the Israeli record in the women's hammer throw, a mark that she has improved six times this year, she did capture her third national title with a launch of 48.10m.
Israel record holder Niva Ziv took the title in the women's triple jump with a season-best leap of 12.75m.
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