Yelena Isinbayeva, the greatest ever woman pole vaulter, thrilled a partisan crowd by securing the third world title of her illustrious career on Tuesday before saying she was taking a break to have a baby.
The record-breaking Russian, twice Olympic champion and the first woman to clear the revered five metres barrier, was the only vaulter to jump 4.89 metres, pulling out a winning leap when it mattered most in an enthralled Luzhniki arena.
Her dominance of the sport she took to new heights with 28 world records, 15 outdoors and 13 indoors, has receded in recent years, but a season’s best leap was good enough to secure gold.
“I’m the pole vault queen, the crowd is mine,” the 31-year-old told reporters. “This victory is the most precious won in all my career.”
Isinbayeva, whose last global outdoor title came at the 2008 Olympics, had said she could retire after the championships but, after lengthy celebrations, told a news conference she would step away from the sport to become a mother.
“I’m not retiring for the moment, I’m just taking a break,” she said.
“I will have a baby next year and try to come back for Rio (the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics).”
After a nervous start when she failed with her first attempt after entering the competition at 4.65, a measure of her confidence with her rivals up and running, Isinbayeva grew in stature.
With a chorus of “Yelena, Yelena” reverberating around the stadium from the biggest crowd of a poorly attended championships, each clearance was greeted by a cacophony of approval.
Isinbayeva rewarded the support with punches in the air and squeals of delight.
One by one her 11 rivals dropped away. First American Olympic champion Jenn Surh, who bettered Isinbayeva’s world indoor record in March, failed at 4.89, then Cuban Yarisley Silva also failed to get over that height.
With gold assured, Isinbayeva ran to the crowd and embraced her coach and mentor Yefgeny Trofimov, who she split from in 2005 before teaming up with again in 2011.
Milking the moment and urging the crowd to raise the decibel level further, she asked for the bar to be raised to 5.07, one centimetre above the outdoor world record she set in 2009.
Three unsuccessful attempts followed but it could not spoil the former gymnast’s celebrations as she set off for a lap of the track which featured cartwheels and a back-flip.
Isinbayeva said she had fed off the energy of the crowd.
“I won because I was at home,” she said.
“I wanted to leave a bright trace. I want to thank all the fans – their support made it happen.”
Isinbayeva was virtually unbeatable between 2003 and 2008, when she kept raising the world record higher and higher, often by a centimetre at a time.
But plagued by injury and poor form and after failing to register a height in the 2009 world championships, she decided to take a break from the sport, returning after an 11-month absence.
She was again outside the medals at the 2011 worlds but took bronze at last year’s London Olympics.
She credited Trofimov with resurrecting her career.
“He resuscitated me. It’s all thanks to him,” she said.
“He is a genius, he helped me get my world title back.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)