Sometimes the Olympics do not follow the required script. The great Russian was meant to become the first woman in history to win three successive Olympic crowns, and Bleasdale, who once idolised her, was supposed to confirm her potential as the next great vaulting champion by claiming her first medal at the Games.

Instead, the title went to American Jenn Suhr, the silver medallist in Beijing four years ago, who won on a countback from Cuban Yarisley Silva after both women cleared 4.75 metres. Isinbayeva could manage a height of only 4.70m and waved farewell to the crowd, and her Olympic career, with a bronze medal.

It was a subdued swansong for the Russian world record holder, who has a special affection for London because it was the city in which she became the first woman in history to clear five metres in 2005.

In the build-up to the Games, she said a third Olympic gold medal would be the crowning achievement of her career.

After failing to record a height at the 2009 World Championships and finishing sixth at last year’s worlds in Daegu, Isinbayeva’s aura of invincibility had long since disappeared, though her decision to return to her childhood coach appeared to have paid dividends when she broke her own world indoor record during the winter and went on to win the world indoor title in Istanbul in March.

But Suhr, who topped the world outdoor rankings coming into the Games, proved too strong on a night when cool temperatures and a swirling wind caused plenty of problems for the 12 finalists.

Bleasdale was struggling with her technique from the moment she entered the competition at 4.45m and, after two failures, looked in imminent danger of no-heighting on the biggest night of her life.

Sensing her unease, the crowd turned up the volume as she sprinted down the runway for her third attempt and almost willed her over the bar.

Her relief at clearing it was evident as she punched the air as if she had just won a medal.

But the joy did not last long as Bleasdale was barely able to get off the ground with her first two attempts at 4.55m, and though she finally did manage to get airborne with her final effort, she brought the bar down on her descent, prompting load groans around the stadium.

It was a height she had cleared on 12 occasions in her 15 competitions this year and she was blinking back tears as the reality hit her that her Olympics were over.

The history books show that the Olympic Games can be an unforgiving place for debutants, and the fact that Bleasdale saved one of her worst performances of the season for the most important competition of her pole vault career shows just how much the pressure can get inside the head of an athlete, and particularly one so inexperienced.

Remarkably, Bleasdale had never even vaulted before when Isinbayeva was winning the second of her Olympic titles in Beijing in 2008. Her first time was when she took part in a taster session at her Blackburn Harriers club in October of that year, when her aptitude was immediately spotted by her coach, Frenchman Julien Raffalli-Ebezant.

Her extraordinary progress since then, culminating in an indoor clearance of 4.87m clearance that has only been bettered by Isanbayeva and Suhr all year, speaks volumes for her physical talent, but winning medals at the highest level is also about the mind.

Bleasdale admitted afterwards that her lack of experience had been a key factor, blaming her inability to deal with the swirling wind.

“I’m really disappointed,” she said. “I felt like I could have jumped around 4.70 but I struggled to cope with the conditions.

“I’m trying to look at the positives and to finish in the top eight in my first Olympic final is pretty good, but I am just heartbroken with how it went today.

“I felt amazing in qualification and breezed over 4.55. I was almost 20cm over it, so to come out here and put in that performance, I am really disappointed.

“I tried to cope with the conditions as best as I could and it just didn’t happen, but there is always another day.”

by: Simon Hart



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