It is difficult to imagine now, but when the vaulting ambition of Yelena Isinbayeva first took her up into hitherto uncharted airspace the athletics world barely noticed. The BBC television cameras had already been switched off at the end of their Sunday transmission, and only a handful of souls remained in Gateshead International Stadium when the young woman from Volgograd soared over 4.82m.
That was at the Norwich Union Classic in July 2003. Two years and seven months on, Isinbayeva, with her beaming smile, and upward mobility, has become the star attraction at whatever meetingshe graces. There was more chance of the TV cameras following her out of the track and into the toilets at the National Indoor Arena yesterday than there was of the lensmen missing any vault she made in the Norwich Union Grand Prix - just in case she might attempt a world record on the way.
There has only been one world record breaker quite as prolific as Isinbayeva, and even then it took Sergei Bubka nine years to rack up his tally of 35 pole vault marks indoors and out. In less than a third of that time, Isinbayeva has reached 19. At the age of 23, the sky is seemingly her limit. Not yesterday, though.
The Russian arrived in Birmingham on a roll of world records from seven successive indoor competitions, stretching back to the start of 2004. Only last Sunday she improved her indoor mark to 4.91m in a meeting organised by Bubka in Donetsk. The sold-out 8,600 crowd expected nothing less than a 4.92m clearance in the NIA but on all three of her attempts Isinbayeva contrived to dislodge the bar. The three mass gasps of surprise spoke volumes for how far she has come since that July afternoon in Gateshead. On this occasion, she had to settle for a consolation known as victory, beating Poland's Anna Rogowska on the countback system after both woman cleared 4.79m.
"I'm not disappointed that I didn't get the record today because I am very tired," Isinbayeva insisted. "I'm just happy that I won." The chances are that the Russian will be back in the record groove when she defends her world indoor title in Moscow next month. Like Bubka before her, she is not so much inching upwards as centimetring. She crossed the 5m barrier outdoors at Crystal Palace last July and the purists want her to test where her limit might be quickly. Not that Isinbayeva is any great hurry. "If I go up by 1cm, it means the people keep talking about me, about pole vault, and about athletics," she reasoned.
Only once in the previous eight years had the Birmingham meeting failed to yield at least one world record but there was another blank yesterday - despite a storming finish by Kenenisa Bekele in the men's two miles. The leading light of the distance running world crossed the line in 8min 5.12sec, a tantalising 0.43sec short of the record set by his one-time training partner, Haile Gebrselassie, on the same track three years ago.
Any chance of Tirunesh Dibaba - another distance running phenomenon from Ethiopia - chasing the clock in the women's 3,000m disappeared overnight, when the world indoor record was reduced to 8min 27.86sec at the Russian Championships in Moscow. Lilya Shobukhova was rewardedwith a BMW motorbike, prompting Dibaba to throttle back yesterday before surging to a clear win in 8:41.23.Reuse content