SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Pole vaulter Fabiana Murer lived in world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva’s shadow for so long that finishing second became her main goal, but now she hopes the London Olympics will give her the chance to shine and bring the gold back to Brazil.
Indoor champion in 2010, Murer took gold at the world athletics championships in Daegu, South Korea last year but she knows Isinbayeva is still the only woman to jump over 5 meters.
While the Russian’s world record (5.06m) is 21cm better than her own personal best, Murer is confident she is getting closer to Isinbayeva and that this could be her year.
“A two-times Olympic champion, she is a very experienced athlete and I think she will be very strong for the Olympics. She’s training for that and she wants a third gold,” Murer said in an interview at her home in Sao Paulo.
“But today, I know that if I train well, if I gain confidence, if I can get close to 5 meters, then I can compete head to head with her. That is the objective, to try and improve so I can get closer to her and compete for first place.”
Murer is friendly with her Russian rival. They shared a coach for a while and trained at the same base in Italy. They even went shopping together.
But Murer admitted there was a time when Isinbayeva was so dominant she turned up at competitions thinking no higher than winning second place.
That changed in 2010 when Murer defeated Isinbayeva to take the world indoor championship in Qatar. A year later she confirmed her position as a serious contender for Olympic gold when she won the world title in Daegu.
“Then I knew it was possible, I could see that she wasn’t so unbeatable,” Murer recalled. “In an Olympic year, athletes improve, their personal bests improve. I need to beat my personal best to win a medal.”
Murer will not be the only one trying to unseat Isinbayeva.
Sveltana Feofanova, another Russian, has already won Olympic silver and bronze medals and wants to complete the set while Beijing silver medallist Jennifer Suhr of the United States is also gunning for gold.
Pole Ana Rogowska, German Silke Spiegelburg and Cuban Yarisley Silva are also serious contenders, while promising young Briton Holly Bleasdale recently jumped 4.87 meters indoors to smash the British record and will have a passionate home crowd to roar her on.
Murer, one of only four women to clear 4.85 meters outdoors, must exorcise the ghosts of her last Olympic appearance to stand any chance of a medal.
The Brazilian went to Beijing in 2008 with a realistic chance of a medal but was caught up in controversy when organisers mislaid one of her poles.
Vaulters use different poles for different heights and not having a particular pole for a particular height is not only inviting failure, it can also be dangerous.
Murer lost concentration, at one point blocking the runway to prevent other competitors from jumping, then after entering the competition at 4.45m she failed to clear 4.65 and ended up teary eyed and in 10th place.
“I left there very upset because I felt that they had taken away my chance of a medal,” she said. “I had the third best mark in the world that year. For a month afterwards it was very difficult and I kept thinking: Why me?
“But then I thought, I need to be better prepared. That motivated me to keep training and improving.
“Today, I am calm about it. But I also pay more attention. The poles and the mat, they have to be at a certain height and a certain angle and when I compete now I examine them. I always check that my poles are all there before I warm up. I am more careful.”
Murer has focused her entire training schedule on being in prime form for London, even missing out on the world indoor championship earlier this year to spend 40 days at a training camp in Portugal. An Olympic medal is her only goal for 2012.
However, she sheepishly acknowledges there is another competition in the back of her mind.
In four years time, at the age of 35, she hopes to be competing for medals at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I think the only motivation that will keep me going until 2016 is that the Olympics will be in Rio,” she said. “If it was anywhere else I wouldn’t even consider it but the thought of competing before my home crowd is amazing.”
By Peter Rutherford
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