Yelena Isinbayeva: The greatest female pole-vaulter | Sunday Observer

Yelena Isinbayeva: The greatest female pole-vaulter

17 January, 2021

Yelena Gadzhievna Isinbayeva (born 3 June 1982) is a former Russian pole vaulter. She is a two-time Olympic gold medalist (2004 and 2008), a three-time World Champion (2005, 2007 and 2013), the current world record holder in the event, and is widely considered the greatest female pole-vaulter of all time.

Isinbayeva was banned from the 2016 Rio Olympics after the appearance of an independent report about an extensive state-sponsored doping program in Russia, thus dashing her hopes of a grand retirement winning the Olympic gold medal. She retired from athletics in August 2016 after being elected to serve an 8-year term on the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission.

Isinbayeva has been a major champion on nine occasions (Olympic, World outdoor and indoor champion and European outdoor and indoor champion). She was also the jackpot winner of the IAAF Golden League series in 2007 and 2009. After poor performances at the world championships in 2009 and 2010, she took a year-long break from the sport. She became the first woman to clear the five-metre barrier in 2005. Her current world record is 5.06 m outdoors, set in Zurich in August 2009. Her 5.01 m indoors was the world record for just over a year. The latter was Isinbayeva’s twenty-eighth pole vault world record. On 2 March 2013, Jenn Suhr joined Isinbayeva as the only women who have cleared 5 metres. In the process, Suhr took Isinbayeva’s indoor world record.

Isinbayeva was named Female Athlete of the Year by the IAAF in 2004, 2005 and 2008, and World Sportswoman of the Year by Laureus in 2007 and 2009.

In 2007 she entered in the FICTS “Hall of Fame” and was awarded with “Excellence Guirlande D’Honneur”. She was given the Prince of Asturias Award for Sports in 2009. She is one of only nine athletes (along with Valerie Adams, Usain Bolt, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Jacques Freitag, Kirani James, Jana Pittman, Dani Samuels, and David Storl) to win world championships at the youth, junior, and senior level of an athletic event.

Reasons for success

Setting 28 world records (15 outdoor and 13 indoor), staying virtually unbeaten between 2004 and 2009 (winning nine straight gold medals in indoor and outdoor championships) and being elected IAAF World Athlete of the Year in 2004, 2005 and 2008, Isinbayeva has established herself as one of the most successful athletes of her generation.

In August 2005, top UK pole vault coach Steve Rippon said to the BBC that “she [Isinbayeva] is one of the few female pole vaulters I look at and think her technique is as good as the men’s. In fact, the second part of her jump is probably better than any male pole vaulter currently competing. She has a fantastic technique, she’s quite tall (almost 5ft 9in) and she runs extremely well.”

These statements are confirmed by close observation of her jumps; in detail, Isinbayeva’s high level of body control (courtesy of her gymnastics background) especially pays off in the so-called “L-Phase”, where it is vital to use the pole’s rebound to convert horizontal speed into height. Common mistakes are getting rebounded away in an angle (rather than vertically up) or inability to keep the limbs stiff, both resulting in loss of vertical speed and therefore less height. In Isinbayeva’s case, her L-Phase is exemplary.

 

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