The battle for the victory in Moscow, for Yelena Isinbayeva, started last August, when the Russian superstar managed a bronze in London, after only a short , injury-free training period. In listening to Ms. Isinbayeva last year, one was convinced of one thing: If Yelena Isinbayeva was healthy, she was going to win the Moscow World Champs pole vault.
World Championships, Day 4: Women’s Pole Vault Report
by M. Nicole Nazzaro
If it’s Day 4 at the 2013 world championships in track and field, that must mean it’s time for the women’s pole vault finals. We suggest at this juncture that you throw out all of your early conclusions about the attendance figures for the first three days of competition at Luzhniki Stadium, because as the competition got going just after 7:30 p.m. local time tonight, the seating area near the pole vault competition was packed, loud, and lively. And Russian superstar, double Olympic gold medalist Yelena Isinbaeva, hadn’t even taken her first vault yet.
The night was set up to be a storybook for the Russian superstar, despite the presence of a formidable group of champions to challenge her. 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jenn Suhr had already broken Isinbaeva’s indoor world record this year. Cuba’s Yarisley Silva, the silver medalist last year in London, had a personal best of 4.90 meters coming into this meet. And Fabiana Murer was the defending world champion from the 2011 Daegu meet.
So if Isinbaeva was to triumph, it would be against the highest level of competition possible.
It was almost an hour before Isinbaeva took her first vault attempt – a miss at 4.65 meters that sent the highly pro-Russian crowd into convulsions. One would be forgiven for thinking that perhaps Isinbaeva was inspired to succeed this evening to keep her country from having a collective heart attack. Luckily, her second attempt at the height was a success, and for the first time in these championships, the atmosphere inside the stadium truly felt like it was worthy of a world championship meet.
Advertisements for this event on the Moscow metro touted the “face to face” matchup between Suhr and Isinbaeva, so it stands to reason that Suhr presented the biggest challenge of the night, confidently making her first vault (4.55 meters) before passing on 4.65 meters. Suhr of all people would know that 4.65 wasn’t going to come close to a medal here so she gamely saved herself for the higher bars.
Until the bar hit 4.82 meters, it looked as if Germany’s Silke Spiegelburg was fixing to join her countrymen, gold and bronze medalist men’s vaulters Raphael Holzdeppe and Bjorn Otto, on the medal stand at these championships. She made all of her heights prior to the 4.82-meter effort with just one vault but missed on all three attempts at 4.82. Silva, in contrast, struggled with several vaults, and took three attempts to clear both 4.65 and 4.82 meters.
The next height decided the championship. Isinbaeva floated over 4.89 meters in one attempt, sending the stadium (and the television commentators broadcasting the meet live in Russia) into predictable hysterics. Isinbaeva acted as though she has won right there and then, running across the track while the women’s steeplechase final was still being run to wave to her supporters in the stands. In the meantime, Suhr tried gamely to face the bar.
“I was pretty prepared with what to expect,” Suhr said afterward. “I knew it was going to be a crowd in favor of Elena.” Suhr groaned when she was dealt the second seed, meaning that she would vault directly after Isinbaeva in this final. “It was like, all the cheers for her, and then, where’d they go [when I vaulted]?” Suhr said with a smile afterwards. It was just Isinbaeva’s night.
Both Suhr and Silva missed all three attempts at 4.89 meters, and Suhr slid ahead of Silva for the silver medal based on misses at lower heights.
Afterwards, while Isinbaeva took care of a legion of television requests, both the silver and bronze medalists professed to be pleased with the final results.
Suhr: “I’m really happy to be part of the competition. I’m happy with the silver. I have to look back at the year – Olympic gold, a world record indoors, and a world silver. That’s a lot for a year. I’m pretty tired now; it’s been quite a year.”
Silva: “I knew coming into this competition that the competition would be very difficult. I’m extremely happy with my bronze medal. Actually, it feels like gold! In qualifying I thought I might not actually make [the final], and in the final at times I didn’t know if I would be able to get a medal. I’m happy with the way I was able to fight and come back and get this medal. I’m even more happy because this makes history for my country – a silver medal at the Olympics, and a bronze medal here. I’m very happy about this.”
And then, after Silva and Suhr had left the interview room and the hour approached midnight, the “queen of the vault,” as one journalist described her, arrived to her coronation. Isinbaeva, who finished her night by taking three unsuccessful attempts at an outdoor world record of 5.07 meters, giddily answered questions in both Russian and English. She confirmed that she is not yet retiring but will take a break to have a child after this competition season and will re-evaluate after that. She complimented Silva – “already now she shows herself as a strong rival, she is a very good jumper with 4.90 [meters]” – and she gave everyone a history lesson, lest anyone think that she was not the most dominant vaulter in the history of the women’s event:
“Of course I consider myself the best!” she said. “I achieved three outdoor and [many] indoor world titles, two Olympic gold, one Olympic bronze…I don’t think anyone else has the same [accomplishments].”
In Russian, she rattled off a list of things she planned to do in the coming days that was so long as to sound exhausting just to think about it. Remember that Isinbaeva is one of Russia’s true crossover stars, and seeing her seize the opportunity to win the first world championship ever contested on her home soil, at what must be at least the beginning of the final chapter of her career, was a moment both historical and cultural. She is revered here in a way that American track athletes of a bygone era were in their prime. She is Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Mary Decker Slaney wrapped up in a modern 21st century package.
And make no mistake, the very large Russian crowd on hand tonight at Luzhinki came to watch her. One imagines they got their money’s worth.
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