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Feature13 Aug 2013

Sparkling Yelena flies through the Moscow sky

Elena Isinbaeva in the womens Pole Vault at the IAAFWorld Championships Moscow 2013

They came, they saw, they went home happy.

Very happy.

The biggest crowd of the championships, more than were inside Luzhniki Stadium to watch Usain Bolt win the 100m final on Sunday, came to see Russian Pole Vault diva Yelena Isinbayeva claim her third IAAF World Championships title.

Most likely, it seems, for the final time.

Clearly, Muscovites like their field and track in that order. Or, as is most likely, they simply love Yelena Isinbayeva, the poster girl for these championships whose vaulting silhouette adorns the official event logo.

They also know their Pole Vault, creating an atmosphere even more electric than the lightning strikes during Bolt’s 100m final, propelling the ebullient Russian to an upset victory.

After two early misses the 31-year-old responded to the chants of “Yelena, Yelena” from the adoring audience to produce her best outdoor jump in four years with a towering first-attempt clearance at 4.89m.

It sent the stadium into hysteria.

Following misses with all three of their attempts at that height from the two remaining competitors, the USA’s London 2012 Olympic Games champion Jenn Suhr and Cuba’s silver medallist last summer Yarisley Silva, a third World title was confirmed.

“I wanted to leave a bright trace with my last meet,” she said, an indication that this season will, after all, be her last before taking a break with a potential return at some point in the future.

“I was dreaming about the gold medal since 2009 when I lost the World Championships title. I am so proud that I’ve been able to overcome my difficulties from the past and become World champion today.”

It almost wasn’t to be

After the victory, she raced into the stands to embrace Yevgeny Trofimov, the coach who guided her to early successes from the age of 15 when she turned her attention to the Pole Vault after she grew too tall for gymnastics. 

Following her Olympic triumph in Athens in 2004 she left to train with Sergey Bubka’s mentor Vitaly Petrov in Italy, a move which delivered continued success until she effectively ran out of steam in 2010.

After, an 11-month break followed before her return to Trofimov, and two years into their second ‘marriage’, they have now returned to the top of the world.

“He never put his arms down, he always believed in me,” she said.

“He resurrected me, he resuscitated me. Instilled so much faith, he promised me that I would return to my best.”

Isinbayeva revealed she gave significant thought to retiring after a bronze medal in London. With no energy left, Trofimov never insisted she return to training.

“He was a wise man; he never forced me, he listened to me. So then in March he said, ‘Shall we try, let’s give it a shot.’ That’s how it all began.

“Before 2009, I’d never faced defeat. I’d never faced troubles or difficulties. Everything was easy to me, but since 2009 I’ve been very, very down. I lost everything. Of course it hurt me a lot. I thought maybe I have to stop because I’m not able to jump higher anymore.

“But my coach said: ‘don’t give up, don’t give up, I believe in you, soon you will come back to your top’.”

Taking a break to start a family

In June, Isinbayeva said she was going to retire, “My career will finish 100 percent at the World Championships,” she said, but subsequently changed her position saying she would take a break, to marry and start a family.

She says that Rio is on her mind and she would like to win one more Olympic gold to go with her victories in Athens and Beijing.

It seems unlikely though.

“I will take the break to have a baby,” she said. “I will try and come back for Rio, but if something goes wrong I will announce officially that I will retire.”

With two Olympic titles, three outdoor and four indoor World championship wins and the setter of 15 outdoor and 13 indoor World records, taking the standard from 4.82m in 2003 to its current 5.06m in 2009, it has been a remarkable journey.

She takes leave as the undisputed champion and if it transpires that she has jumped her final jump, then she will end her career having transformed the event.

Fittingly her final jumps were attempts at a 29th World record and while not successful, like the true leading lady she had the crowd in her lap until the very end.

Press conference to savour

The story should end there, but if this is the last we see of Yelena Isinbayeva then she gave a farewell press conference to remember.

It started on Tuesday and finished on Wednesday, but had a full room of tired media fully engaged in her excitement.

On how she will celebrate her win, she added that: “We are going to go to nightclubs, we are going to celebrate big time. Moscow will be going crazy.”

She will be Mayor of one of the Athletes Villages for the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi in 2014, in what she describes as a big year.

“In 2014, it will be the year of being a VIP for me. I’ll just be a big shot and I will be going around like a big shot.”

“And I will be walking like a pregnant penguin.”

David Culbert for the IAAF

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