Yelena Isinbayeva, the long-time pole vault queen, was in action in Volgograd on Saturday, preparing for the defence of her Olympic crown. She must be worried. A rising young British star is threatening to dethrone her.
Competing in Lyon on Saturday, Holly Bleasdale took another big chunk off her British record. The 20-year-old from Euxton in Lancashire sailed over 4.87m, an improvement of 16cm on the national mark she set in Orleans last month.
In doing so, Bleasdale catapulted to second place on the world indoor all-time list. Only Isinbayeva has ventured higher indoors, clearing 5m in Donetsk in March 2009.
Such is Bleasdale's rising stock, having raised her British record by degrees in Lyon (clearing 4.72m and 4.80m before her successful third time attempt at 4.87m) she went for a new world indoor record height. Isinbayeva will have been relieved to learn that the young Briton registered three failures at 5.01m, but having managed to clear no more than 4.70m in Volgograd the 29-year-old Russian knows she has a new rival of substance – all the more so if she discovers that Bleasdale did not take a full run-up.
A shot at a medal in London this summer is looking increasingly realistic for Bleasdale, who improved from 4.35m to 4.71m last year under the guidance of her Manchester-based French coach, Julien Raffalli.
It was only in October 2008, two months after Isinbayeva had won her second successive Olympic title, that Bleasdale was coaxed out of the car by her mother to attempt one of the Manchester-based Raffalli's pole vault "taster" sessions in the Blackburn rain. Now the Lancashire lass stands fourth on the world all-time list indoors or out – behind Isinbayeva, whose three-year-old outdoor record stands at 5.06m, Jennifer Suhr of the United States (4.92m) and the Russian Svetlana Feofanova (4.88m).
"I knew that 4.87m would get me second all-time indoors," Bleasdale said. "When I got it I couldn't believe it. I just lay still in astonishment on the landing bed. The crowd was absolutely electric. When I attempted 5.01m, the atmosphere was just out of this world. I ran through twice and had one good attempt. I was lucky to have the chance to attempt a world record but next time I will be more mentally prepared."
Next up for Bleasdale will be the national indoor championships in Sheffield on 11 and 12 February. Then the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul in March offer her the chance to measure up against Isinbayeva and the world's elite ahead of London – and to show that her failure to get beyond the qualifying round in Daegu in August was due to fatigue at the end of a hard summer that was only extended beyond age-group competitions because of her progress.
Bleasdale was not the only Briton doing well on Saturday. Competing at Mannheim in Germany, the high-jumper Robbie Grabarz improved his personal best from 2.29m to 2.34m. In doing so the 24-year-old went top in the world indoor rankings for 2012. The same height won fellow Briton Germaine Mason a surprise Olympic silver in Beijing four years ago. Six months and four days out, things are looking up for the home hopefuls.
"If Holly and Robbie repeat this in the Olympic arena we will all be partying," said Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics.