The pole vault queen
Double Olympic champion Elena Isinbaeva is the undisputed ‘first lady’ of the pole vault. As the first female to clear 5m, the Russian has taken her discipline into previously uncharted territory
Brilliant in BeijingIt was one of the standout moments of the 2008 Olympic Games. As the sun set on Monday 18 August, 91,000 athletics fans in Beijing’s National Stadium were on the edge of their seats, transfixed by the exploits of Elena Isinbaeva. With a vault of 4.85m, the Russian successfully defended the Olympic title she won at Athens 2004. By that stage she was the only vaulter left in the competition, but she was far from finished. First, she cleared 4.95m to break her own Olympic record, and then asked for the bar to be raised yet again, this time to 5.05m, as she launched a tilt at her world record. With the rest of the evening’s programme at the Bird’s Nest already completed, all eyes were on Isinbaeva, and the entire stadium cheered her on in unison. At the third time of asking, she went clear at 5.05m. The crowd erupted into a symphony of applause, and under the glare of the spotlight, Isinbaeva, overcome by the emotion of the moment, burst into tears on the podium.
Pole vault pioneerBorn on 3 June 1982 in the city of Volgograd, Isinbaeva originally trained to be a gymnast, but was soon too tall, and at 15 she refocused her energies on the discipline which would make her a superstar. She made remarkable progress at junior level, but that was just the start. When the women’s pole vault took its Olympic bow at the 2000 Games in Sydney Isinbaeva was one of the trailblazers. Then, on 13 July 2003 in Gateshead (GBR), she broke the world record for the first time, with a vault of 4.82m. From there she embarked on a journey into uncharted territory. She claimed her first Olympic title in Athens in 2004 with another new world record of 4.91m, and a year later became the first female vaulter to break the 5m barrier. In total, Isinbaeva has improved the world record an incredible 17 times over the years, setting the current outdoor record of 5.06m in Zurich on 28 August 2009. During the same time, she has claimed two Olympic gold medals and two World Championship titles and has won the IAAF Golden League on two occasions. She was voted IAAF female athlete of the year in 2004, 2005 and 2008, and was also named Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year in 2007 and 2009.
Return to the summitAfter taking time out from athletics in 2010 and 2011, Isinbaeva returned refreshed to improve on her own indoor world record, clearing 5.01m in Donetsk (UKR) on 23 February 2012. She went on to claim an Olympic bronze medal at London 2012, a result that she regarded as a victory, and one that encouraged her to set her sights on the 2013 World Championships in Moscow. Athletics fans can look forward to the prospect of Isinbaeva raising the bar for some time to come.