Yelena's solo performance scales new heights

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The Independent Online

Yelena Isinbayeva, never exactly shy of the spotlight, lived out a dream of an experience here today - first retaining her Olympic pole vault title and then, as the only athlete left operating inside a full, steamy Bird's Nest stadium, improving her own world record to 5.05 metres. No wonder she recalled her gymnastic past by performing a crowd-pleasing backflip on the landing mat.

The 26-year-old from Volgograd was the cat that got not just the cream, but the turkey and trimmings too. And oh, how delighted her old domestic rival Svetlana Feofanova, the bronze medallist, must have been for her...

"I felt like a famous singer," she said afterwards. "The whole stage was only for me. It was so cool."

Since Isinbayeva first set the world record of 4.82m at Gateshead - of all places - five years ago, there have been 17 improvements, of which Feofanova contributed two in 2004. The rest have been incremental - and financial - additions as, in the manner of the man who dominated the event in similar fashion, Sergei Bubka, she has made the bargain of $50,000 for every world record work for her.

The prospect of breaking Bubka's record of consecutive world records does not faze her. "Yes, I will do it," she insisted. "I just have 12 more to go. Life would be boring without records to break so I want to continue on forever."

The woman who seems most likely to contest that state of affairs is Jennifer Stuczynski, a 26-year-old from Fredonia, New York, who was reluctantly persuaded to give up basketball to take up the event four years ago. Having reached 4.92m at the US trials, she took silver here with 4.80.

Stuczyinski, as impassive in competition as Isinbayeva is vivacious, had ventured the opinion that she would beat her Russian rival here. "You saw tonight what happened," Isinbayeva responded. "Sometimes people talk too much. I just prove."

She was assisted in her endeavours by frequent conversations with the coach leaning over the stadium hoardings, Vitaly Petrov, who guided Bubka in the early part of his career before working in Italy for the national team.

After two near misses at the mark, her coach had further words to impart. "He said finish what you're doing," Isinbayeva recalled. "He said 'Basta, basta' [finish, finish] - he spoke Italian to me."

Isinbayeva's was the second outstanding female performance of the evening following that of 18-year-old Pamela Jelimo, who floated to a fabulous 800 metres victory that also earned her the distinction of being the first Kenyan woman to win Olympic gold after a long and and illustrious succession of male victories begun by Kip Keino 40 years ago.

The event in which Britain's Kelly Holmes made her startling golden breakthrough at the 2004 Games included several of her old rivals such as the Athens silver medallist Hasna Benhassi of Morocco and the 2000 gold medallist Maria Mutola, although it did not include the fastest woman this year, Yelena Soboleva, who was one of seven Russians to be suspended for manipulating doping results.

From the moment the runners broke from their lanes after 200 metres, Jelimo and her compatriot Janeth Jepkosgei Busieni darted to the front like startled gazelle, to the point where, as they passed the bell in the rapid time of 55.41sec the field, unusually for championship events, was strung out round the track.

As Jelimo dodged ahead of her 25-year-old domestic rival to make a long run for home, the crowd voiced its deep appreciation of this most simple spectacle. The chase was on - and the hounds never got close. In its simplicity and speed - Jelimo won in a world junior record of 1min 54.87sec, a second and a half quicker than Holmes ran in Athens - the achievement brought to mind that purest of gun-to-tape efforts, the 1974 Commonwealth Games 1500m which saw Tanzania's Filbert Bayi break the world record.

Jelimo, as you might expect, has plans to become a world record holder herself. "Maybe some day I could do that," she said. "I hope to do even better. I can say when you have a talent, you can exercise it."

Two talents were exercised to Olympic proportions here last night, leaving the watching world richer for the experience.