The 1912 Olympic stadium in Stockholm is made of dark brick gingerbread, with castle towers at one end. At the other end one night early last week, framed in the arch of the marathon gate, stood Sweden's own Patrik Sj�berg, staring at a high jump bar set at a world-record 7'11�". The rest of the meet had already concluded, but scarcely a soul among the 20,000 spectators had departed. The scoreboard read LYCKA TILL PATRIK. Good Luck Patrik. The crowd, which in the U.S. would have been hushed and expectant, kept up a rhythmic applause. In Scandinavia, it is the sound of wishes.
As Sj�berg rocked, gathering himself for the moment, the wishes mounted with demanding urgency. His long hair streaming, Sj�berg ran at the bar, jumped and cleared it with his body but touched it with his heel, gently dislodging it.
Sj�berg rolled out of the pit with his hands over his face, as if cringing from mortal error, yet he still had two tries remaining. "It's just that you get only one or two chances a year to jump a world record," he would say. "Out of 100 jumps you have a perfect one only once, and you hope that it comes at a world-record height, that it's not wasted."
His fear was that he had already used his quota. He had won the competition with 7'7�" (2.32 meters) and then had jumped 7'8�", clearing the bar by at least four inches with the best jump, he felt, of his 22-year-old life. That, of course, means that he has jumped fully eight feet; it's just that the bar didn't happen to be set that high.
His second try at the record height was a nearly identical miss. Once more the bar didn't move until he was almost over. Then it descended slowly, as if it were made of balsa, through 20,000 groans.
Sj�berg put on his sweatshirt and rested. The 6'6�" jumper was the 1984 Olympic silver medalist, finishing behind Dietmar M�genburg of West Germany. In February, Sj�berg set the indoor record of 7'10�" in Athens, matching the outdoor record which had been held by Igor Paklin of the U.S.S.R. since 1985.
Sj�berg grew up in G�teborg, on Sweden's west coast, escaping the perils of a broken home and a childhood on the streets (he began smoking at age six and still goes through two packs a day) through sports and the guidance of his coach, Viljo Nousiainen. School left him cold. "You are condemned by your teacher after a few weeks," Sj�berg has said. "Either you belong to the elite or the incorrigibles."
Having been consigned to the latter, he entrusted his future to high jumping. He has developed the dropout's passion for making it big, and flaunting it. Before the meet in Stockholm he remarked that his white Porsche wasn't cutting it. "I've got to get another car. There are too many Porsches in town."
Sj�berg can sound jaded next to, say, your average American high jumper. "I used to think of little besides jumping," he says. "Now, it's a living."
The casualness of those words was deceiving. Sj�berg showed that on his third try. He approached the pit with precisely controlled fury. Again, he lightly brushed the bar. When he landed in the pit he leaped up and screamed at the trembling bar not to fall. It obeyed, and he became the first Swede to set an outdoor world record since Anders G�rderud, who did so in winning the '76 Olympic steeplechase.