World championship gold in the bag? Check.
Bar set at world record height? Check.
The attention of an entire stadium?
To the chagrin of track officials waiting impatiently to start a 1,500-meter final, check.
Rising to his feet – one in a red shoe, the other in yellow – Bondarenko put a finger to his lips, and on cue 30,000 onlookers fell eerily silent.
Would Javier Sotomayor's 20-year-old mark finally fall?
In the end, only attempt two at 2.46 meters (8.07 feet) came close; Bondarenko's backside slicing the bar off its perch.
A disappointment? Perhaps.
But at the same time, here was an athlete – excitingly – with an ego too robust to allow the Cuban's mark of 2.45 to stand for too long.
Anyone who witnessed how he secured the gold medal in the first place would have been convinced of that.
By the time most of the 12 jumpers had crashed out of the final, Bondarenko had jumped just once, dismissively passing up on the first two heights and three subsequent heights.
Without breaking a sweat, he had whittled the field down to three.
Having wobbled uncharacteristically on his first attempt, Bondarenko owned 2.41 at the second.
The two other finalists, London 2012 joint bronze medalists Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Canada's Derek Drouin, simply cracked, perhaps making the mistake of witnessing the distance by which Bondarenko had equaled his own world-leading jump.
Then came mind games that would embarrass a chess grandmaster.
With a national record under his belt Drouin was out, and Barshim, the Qatari, still had two attempts left at 2.41.
Realizing he had the silver snagged and with nothing to lose, he skipped straight to 2.44 to try and snatch the gold from under Bondarenko's nose.
But before Barshim could jump, Bondarenko registered with officials that he would skip straight from 2.41 to an unprecedented 2.46.
Barshim, a 22-year-old upstart with even less top-level experience – and certainly none of the swagger – of Bondarenko, had attempted to take the game to his opponent but was hit with a psychological counterpunch that proved fatal.
On both his final attempts Barshim looked defeated before he even reached the bar, and it was checkmate.
"I didn't watch the last attempt by Barshim. I felt all right and it didn't matter whether he would make it or not," Bondarenko said.
"I was focused on my bar rather than my rivals."
Bondarenko held up the track schedule for a good two minutes before upsetting the world record bar three times – the third time palming it away with vainglorious contempt before dashing into the crowd in wild celebration.
Source: RIA Novosti