World Athletics Championships: Yelena Isinbayeva scales new heights of popularity

Pole-vaulter will be lifted by crowd after falling short London Olympics

Moscow

For Jessica Ennis-Hill in August 2012, read Yelena Isinbayeva for the same month in 2013. Much as Ennis-Hill was the athletics poster girl inside the Olympic Stadium last year, Isinbayeva is exactly that for the World Championships in Moscow, which get under way today.

Moscow and – in particular – the Luzhniki Stadium, where the Worlds are being held, has to date nicely bookended the career of Isinbayeva, who was born in Volgograd, 600 miles away from the capital.

It was here that she won her first title and where last month she was crowned Russian champion with a clearance of 4.75 metres, suggesting the two-time Olympic and world champion, and world record holder, was approaching her best form at just the right time.

On the eve of her home event, she insists: “I don’t feel pressure at all. I will enjoy every moment on the track during the World Championships. I’m just so proud of Russia that Moscow will host such an event as the World Championships. It’s the first time in the history of athletics.”

Her comments read a bit like those of a tourist guide but she plans to be anything but that at what could be her last chance to win a major medal at world level.

Last month, she had suggested there was a finality to her appearance at the Worlds, that it would be her last competition before retirement. But she backtracked on that, saying after Moscow she planned to take time out from the sport to have a baby.

“I just decided that I would like to start a family after the end of the summer of 2013 competing,” she said. “I didn’t say that I will retire. After having a baby I am planning to come back to the professional sport as many of my team-mates have done and I will try to take my third Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro.”

To do that would be a gargantuan feat. Already Isinbayeva is 31 and injuries have taken their toll – a leg injury forced her to miss a large chunk of time competing this summer.

And there is a new breed of vaulters seemingly yet to peak. One is Britain’s Holly Bleasdale, who has been forced out of the Championships with injury. The other of note is Yarisley Silva. The 26-year-old Cuban has been the form vaulter this  year with the five leading clearances of the season, including a best of 4.90 metres.

That is still some way off Isinbayeva at her peak – her world record stands at 5.06m. Of her chances of getting near such heights again – more than two feet higher than a double-decker bus – she is not totally sure.

“You never know in sport what will happen on the track,” she says. “I will do my best and I am confident that I will get huge support from my home crowd here. Time will show how high I can go.”

It is 15 years since Isinbayeva first took up the pole vault. From five to 15, she had been a budding gymnast but left her first sporting love as she was considered too tall for the discipline at 5ft 8in. Six months after picking up the pole, she won the World Youth Games here – in what was only her third time in competition.

Looking back, she recalls: “It was a strange feeling the first time with the pole. It was totally different, alien then to gymnastics. I remember turning up and the indoor hall was just huge compared to the gymnastics hall where I trained. The other thing I remember which surprised me was that the girls and boys were training together, which hadn’t happened with me in gymnastics.

“I’d say the beginning wasn’t difficult for me – it just felt right, and still does. I am still excited each time I compete. I still love the pole vault.”

That has not always been the case. During the 2010 season she took a break from the sport, exhausted by the constant training and competing. Her only major title since her return was the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul last year.

She had gone into the London Games tipped by many to win but struggled in the blustery conditions and came away with the bronze medal, with a best clearance of 4.70m.

Looking back on the events of last summer, she says: “Yes, I had a chance to win my third Olympic gold in London but I lost the chance. I have no regrets, though. I am happy with all my victories and I learn from all my defeats. Defeats make me stronger – the victories just show me that I am on the right way. I am very proud of myself. I am proud of the glory, fame and all the victories.”

Tellingly, when asked who will take over her mantle as the dominant force in pole-vaulting, she says simply, “no one”, perhaps with an element of mind games before the Championships begin. That said, she believes Britain’s Bleasdale has a chance to be among the front-runners.

“She’s showed very good results in the past with a jump of 4.87m,” says Isinbayeva. “My opinion is she can definitely improve on that with the right coach.”

Whoever comes to the fore, however, it is unlikely that anyone will quite dominate the sport again as the Russian has with her 17 world records outdoors and 13 indoors.

Beyond Bolt: Five international stars to watch

Ashton Eaton (US, decathlon)

Outside the sport, the world record holder is arguably one of global sport’s least-known star athletes. He can run the 100m in 10.21sec, long jump to 8.23 metres and run the 400m in 45.64sec.

Blessing Okagbare (Botswana, 100m/long jump)

The superbly named Botswanan plans to double up in the 100m as well as the long jump. She has the speed and the distance.

Brianna Rollins (US, 100m hurdles)

The 21-year-old has this season taken the sprint hurdles by storm, clocking the third-fastest time in history. It remains to be seen, however, how she copes with her first major championships.

Warren Weir (Jamaica, 200m)

A bronze medallist in the 200m at the London Olympics, he has been nipping at Usain Bolt’s heels time-wise this season and should give him a run for his money.

Mutaz Essa Barshim (Qatar, high jump)

Made a name for himself by tying with Robbie Grabarz with a best clearance of 2.29 metres for bronze at the Olympics. He has since set his sights on Javier Stomayor’s 20-year-old world record of 2.45m.

Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003