In truth, attendances at the current championships had been poor, with some of the planet’s finest athletes performing in front of row upon row of empty seats. It was a different story last night though, as the 31 year-old Isinbayeva (with whom I share a birthday—the date and not the year, I hasten to add) turned back the clock to claim gold and spark some wonderful celebrations.
It is no secret that my favourite female athlete is Steffi Graf, but this 5’9” Russian jumping machine is certainly my first lady of track and field. Yelena Isinbayeva—or Елена Исинбаева as I like to call her— has won pretty much every world title in her chosen event (many on more than one occasion) and her extraordinary popularity—albeit in front of an adoring home crowd—was glaringly obvious to the watching world.
You can only milk such a crowd if you are very good at what you do, and although the days of invincibility are arguably over, Yelena was still more than good enough to see off the challenge of London 2012 gold medallist Jenn Suhr as well as the best other vaulters the world has to offer.
Her winning clearance of 4.89m is some way below her current world record of 5.06m—it’s also lower than the 5.01m she cleared in August 2005, sometime after which I received this signed photo from her Monaco home. To be honest though, the height was irrelevant. What mattered was winning and Yelena’s performance drew the kind of reaction that most athletes could only dream of.
Great scenes . . . remarkable athlete.