Isinbayeva ready to show she has the head for heights again

On countless occasions Yelena Isinbayeva has been asked what she says to herself when she stands on the pole vault runway ready to launch herself over the bar.

She will not reveal the answer, at least not publicity. It is between her and the ‘stick’ that has turned her into the finest woman her event has known.

But if those are private thoughts, what remains clearly out in the open is her desire to show her greatness again.

Eleven years on from winning her first major senior medal, when she was second at the European Athletics Championships in Munich, Isinbayeva, now 30, has no desire to take a back seat.

The World Championships in her home country take place in less than three months and this Saturday in Shanghai she will begin her bid to restore her position at the top of the rankings, as once more the woman to beat.

European athletics has rarely seen, at least in modern times, a woman who has dominated a field event like Isinbayeva.

Many thought that by finishing third at the Olympic Games in London last year was the beginning of the end for her. They could not have been more wrong.

She is back, and her bid to reach the heights of then past will provide European athletics with one of its most fascinating stories of this outdoor season once she has lift-off in China in five days’ time.

The brilliant Russian is ready regain the form of the past, such as 2009 when she took the world record to 5.06m.

Since then, even though she may lost her title as Olympic champion, the closest anyone has gone to troubling the heights she reached was the following year, when Brazil’s Fabiana Murer vaulted 4.85m.

On the world stage, Isinbayeva holds the leading 11 best heights, from the record she set in Zurich to the 4.92m (a mark she shares with American Jennifer Suhr) from Brussels in 2004.

And as Valentin Balakhnichyov, the President of the Russian Athletics Federation, said a few weeks ago when Isinbayeva’s Shanghai place was confirmed: “She has been training hard. She wants to come back stronger than ever.”

It was in 2010 when Isinbayeva chose to take a break from the sport. As she said at the time: “I need to step back in order for my body to properly recover.”

She returned to finish sixth at the World Championships in Daegu and then 12 months later she was back on the podium in London, her height of 4.70m bringing third place as Suhr won with 4.75m, on countback, from Cuba’s Yarisley Silva.

It was a rainy, cold evening for the final and big heights were unlikely to happen.

But it was in the aftermath of that medal, that the glint was back in her eye. She said: “I wanted to leave on a golden note, with my head held high. That did not happen in London. In 2016 I will be 34, still young enough to compete. Why not? I will go to Rio and get my gold back.”

The standards for 2013 have been set by Cuba’s Yarisley Silva with the 4.85m she vaulted in Iowa last month and the opposition Isinbayeva will face in Shanghai include one of her great rivals and fellow Russian, Svetlana Feofanova, the double European champion, and Germany’s Silke Spiegelburg, a triple silver medallist on the European stage, outdoors and indoors.

Just how high Isinbayeva goes will indicate to the rest of the world the type of levels they might have to reach. A new beginning awaits a woman who, it seems, is ready to make a big impression again.


Isinbayeva Vaulter Magazine
Isinbayeva Vaulter Magazine

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