Yelena Isinbayeva celebrates defending her World title in Osaka (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Osaka, Japan

Osaka 2007 - Women's Pole Vault: Looks can be deceiving - ‘It’s not as easy as it looks,’ Isinbayeva insists

“It’s not as easy as it looks,” complained Yelena Isinbayeva to Russian journalists after her (inevitable?) victory on Day Four of the IAAF World Championships in Athletics.

Who’s she trying to kid? We got the real story half an hour later in the official press conference. Asked if she doubted she would win, she replied, “I’m always confident. If every time I jump my best, I know they cannot win”.

‘They,’ of course are her opponents, who had a glimmer of hope when ‘Izzie’ failed her first attempt at 4.80m. But it was only a temporary respite. Fifteen minutes later, she sailed over, and no one else could emulate that height. And she again gave her rivals short shrift later, after three failed attempts at a new World record of 5.02m. “I get tired after I win, I lose all my power. I need stronger competition in order the break the World record (her own, of 5.01 metres). My rivals need to do better.” As if they need any reminding!

An orbit all her own

Maybe it’s something to do with being a child during the Soviet space programme that makes Isinbayeva so good at untethered flight! Whatever the case, she was back in orbit on Tuesday night, long after her opponents had fallen to earth. She came into the competition at 4.65m, 10cms higher than her sole qualifying jump on Sunday, and after her opponents had racked up over 40 jumps between them, simply flew over. Lying prostrate with a towel over her face, she opted to skip 4.70 and 4.75m, which is seriously telling your opponents they haven’t got a chance.

There were betting odds of 1-100 (ie bet $100 to win one) against her losing. In reality, on a scale of one to 1000, this would have been infinity, the biggest shock, not just of these championships, but in athletics history. Olympic, World and European champion (both indoors and out), holder of 20 world records, the only woman over five metres, it would have required a major shift in the ‘chi’ of the universe, a rent in the fabric of time/space, for Isinbayeva to have lost. Or a response as esoteric as the opinion of former Liverpool FC manager, Bill Shankly who, when asked if football was a matter of life or death, replied, “It’s more important than that.”

But of course, she didn’t lose. Born in Volgograd 25 years ago, she is a member of the Army club, and nominally a member of the military, with rank of Senior Lieutenant. A former gymnast, she quit at 15 when she grew too tall. Since the trampoline is a regular tool in the training of vaulters, it was an almost inevitable shift in discipline, which was to propel her to worldwide fame. Now coached by Vitaly Petrov, who had a little experience with a guy named Bubka, she is based for much of the year in Formia, Italy. The Russian media pressed her on why she doesn’t live at home. She rebuffed them as easily as her opponents on the pole vault runway. “I don’t want to change,” she stated baldly. “Even to go back to Russia. Formia is excellent for me. People leave me alone there. It’s a great place to train, and there’s no pressure on me.”

The rumours of bad feeling between Isinbayeva and former World champion and compatriot, Svetlana Feofanova took a hit too, when the couple embraced after the press conference, stood talking for several minutes, before posing for a series of photos by Russian media, both of them beaming. Isinbayeva paid tribute to the crowd who gave undivided attention to her World record attempts, and she obviously loves the attention elsewhere in Japan, and being a role model for young women here. 

“The crowd was excellent, especially on my second and third attempts (much closer than her first). I love my fans here. They named me a World Record Artiste, and lots of 13 to 15 year old girls came to meet me, and asked me, ‘What can I do to be good in Pole Vault?’”.

Her rivals will draw no solace from her renewed intention to compete for another half a dozen years. She has said she thinks 5.15m is within her capabilities.

“It’s no problem for me to motivate myself. I intend to compete through until the World Indoor Championships in 2013.”

Pat Butcher for the IAAF