Russian athletics stars don’t come much bigger than pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva.
The double Olympic gold medallist and World record-holder has featured on much of the promotional material in the build-up to the World Championships in Moscow. But the 31-year-old is no longer the dominant force she once was and the last of her two World titles was six years ago.
Memories of her past two World Championships appearances are also still fresh in the memory. Four years ago in Berlin she failed to register a height in the final, then in Daegu 2011 she finished sixth.
Isinbayeva added to her medal collection last year, winning gold at the World Indoor Championships and bronze at the Olympics. But the rest of the world has now caught up with her.
Olympic champion Jenn Suhr of the USA this year became the second woman in history behind Isinbayeva to clear five metres, setting a World indoor record of 5.02m. Her outdoor season’s best of 4.80m puts her at second place on this summer’s world season list.
The world leader – and perhaps the favourite for gold in Moscow – is Yarisley Silva. The Cuban made a significant breakthrough at the 2011 World Championships where she finished one place ahead of Isinbayeva with a PB of 4.70m.
Since then she has gone from strength to strength, taking silver at the London 2012 Olympics with an equal-PB of 4.75m. Silva’s progression has continued this year too, culminating with a Central American and Caribbean record of 4.90m in Hengelo, making her the third-highest vaulter in history.
Silva has this season won in Birmingham and London, setting a Diamond League record of 4.83m in the latter. The eight best marks of her life have all been set in 2013 and she has produced the top five clearances in the world this year.
Winner in 2011, Brazil’s Fabiana Murer will defend her World title in Moscow. The 32-year-old has a best of just 4.73m this season, but that won’t concern her as she headed to Daegu two years ago with a season’s best of 4.71m before vaulting 14 centimetres higher to take gold.
As ever, German vaulters will be out in force. Carolin Hingst and Silke Spiegelburg have both cleared 4.71m this year, but 2011 silver medallist Martina Strutz will miss Moscow through injury.
Russia will be the only nation at the World Championships with three vaulters over 4.70m this season. Joining Isinbayeva will be World University Games champion Anastasiya Savchenko and European under-23 champion Angelina Zhuk-Krasnova.
The likes of 2009 World champion Anna Rogowska, European champion Jirina Svoboda and Greek record-holder Nikoleta Kiriakopoulou will also be expected to figure in the final.
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Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF