Yelena Isinbaeva

Russian pole vaulter, Honored Master of Sport of Russia
Early Life

Yelena Isinbayeva (Елена Гаджиевна Исинбаева) was born on June 3, 1982 in Volgograd, Volgograd Region.

From the age of 5 to 15, Isinbayeva trained as a gymnast in her hometown of Volgograd. She ultimately left the sport because as she grew she was considered too tall to be competitive in gymnastics, eventually reaching a height of 1.74 m (5' 8½")

In 1998, after graduating from a engineer-technical preparatory school, Isinbayeva entered the regional Reserve Olympians' College (UOR).

Beginnings on the World Stage

In her first major competition, the 1998 World Junior Championships in Annecy, France, Yelena jumped 4.00 m but this left her 10 cm away from securing a medal. In 1999, Yelena improved and won at the World Youth Games in Bydgoszcz, Poland with a vault of 4.10 m to take her first gold medal.

At the 2000 World Junior Championships, Isinbayeva again took first place clearing 4.20 m. The same year the women's pole vault made its debut as an Olympic event in Sydney, Australia where Stacy Dragila of United States took gold. 2001 saw another gold medal for Isinbayeva, this time at the European Junior Championships with a winning height of 4.40 m.

She continued to improve in this relatively new event (world records for women's pole vault began in 1992) and 2002 saw her clear 4.55 m at the European Championships finishing 5 cm short of compatriot Svetlana Feofanova's gold medal winning jump.

In 2002 Isinbayeva entered the Volgograd State Academy of Physical Culture and Sport. She would complete her studies in 2005 and would graduate with a specialization in physical education.

Continued Progress, and a Memorable 2004

2003 was another year of progression and saw Yelena win the European Under 23 Championships gold with 4.65 m (in Bydgoszcz). She went onto break the world record clearing 4.82 m on July 13 at a meeting in Gateshead, England.

2004 was the year when the women's pole vault began to evolve as a major sporting event. During a meeting at Donetsk, Ukraine, Isinbayeva set a new indoor worlds best, with a height of 4.83 m only to see Feofanova increase this by a single centimetre the following week. The following month at the World's Indoor in March Yelena broke this with a gold medal winning jump of 4.86 m beating reigning indoor & outdoor champion Feofanova into bronze with reigning Olympic champion Dragila taking silver.

June 27 saw her return to Gateshead and once again the world record mark was improved to 4.87 m. Feofanova bounced back the following week to again break the record by a centimetre in Heraklion, Greece.

On July 25 in Birmingham, England, Yelena reclaimed the record jumping 4.89 m and five days later in Crystal Palace, London, added a further centimetre to the record.

The pole vault was one of the most eagerly awaited events at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece and although the competition did not reach the heights that were anticipated the rivalry between Yelena and Feofanova brought the event alive. With all of the other events finished the whole crowd were focused on the pole vault.

When Feofanova failed at 4.90 m the gold medal went to Yelena, who completed the memorable night by attempting and clearing a new world record height of 4.91 m. She broke her own record later that year at the Memorial Van Damme in Brussels with a 4.92 m jump.

Cementing her World Status

In July 2005, she broke the world record four times over three separate meetings. First in Lausanne, Switzerland, she added an extra centimetre to her own mark clearing 4.93 m. It was the 14th world record of Isinbayeva's career coming just three months after she broke her own indoor mark (4.89 m) in Lievin. Eleven days later, in Madrid, Spain, she added an additional 2 cm to clear 4.95 m. In Crystal Palace, London on July 22, after improving the record to 4.96 m, she raised the bar to 5.00 m. She then became the first woman pole vaulter to clear this metric barrier, achieving the mark with a single attempt. At the 2005 World Championships in Athletics, she once again broke her own world record, performing 5.01 m in her second attempt, and winning the competition.

At an indoor meeting on February 12 in Donetsk, Ukraine, Isinbayeva set a new indoor world record. She cleared 4.91 m. In August she won the gold medal at the 2006 European Athletics Championships in Gothenburg.

Isinbayeva was crowned Laureus World Sports Woman of the Year for the 2006 season.

On 10 February 2007 in Donetsk, Ukraine, Isinbayeva broke the world indoor pole vault record again, by clearing 4.93 metres. It was Isinbayeva's 20th world record.

On 28 August 2007 she repeated as world champion in Osaka at the 2007 World Championships in Athletics with a modest 4.80 m, then failing three times at setting a new world record at 5.02 m. The next three competitors did no better than 4.75 m.


During the indoor season, Isinbayeva set her twenty-first world record, clearing 4.95 metres on 16 February 2008 in Donetsk, Ukraine. A few weeks later, in Valencia, Spain, Isinbayeva won the World Indoor Championships over Jennifer Stuczynski. Both vaulters achieved the same height, with Isinbayeva winning by virtue of fewer unsuccessful attempts.

On July 11 2008, at her first competition of the season, Rome's Golden Gala, Isinbayeva broke her own world record, clearing 5.03 metres. This was her first world record outdoors since the 2005 World Championships. Isinbayeva stated that she had tried so many times at 5.02 metres and was still unsuccessful, her coach told her to change something and so she attempted 5.03 metres. This record came just as people began to speculate her fall from the top of pole vaulting, as American Jennifer Stuczynski cleared 4.92 metres at the American Olympic Trials. Isinbayeva stated that this motivated her to maintain her reputation as the world's greatest female pole vaulter. A few weeks later, at the Aviva London Grand Prix, Isinbayeva and Stuczynski copmeted together for the first time of the outdoor season. Isinbayeva won the competition, with Stuczynski finishing second. Both attempted a new world record of 5.04 metres. Isinbayeva was tantalisingly close on her final attempt, with the bar falling only after Isinbayeva had landed on the mat.

Isinbayeva broke her 19-day old world record on July 29, in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. She cleared 5.04 metres, her twenty-third world record, on her final attempt.

On August 18, 2008 Isinbayeva broke her own women's pole vault world record on the way to defending her Olympic title. She beat the record by a centimetre with a clearance of 5.05 metres, finishing ahead of American Jennifer Stuczynski, who cleared 4.80m. Russia's Svetlana Feofanova took bronze with a vault of 4.75m.

Isinbayeva showed her delight following her latest achievement: "I was trying to do my best for the crowd [...] It makes me happy, so happy, I felt that I could not go out without the world record because of the support the crowd gave me."

"I remember my feelings from Athens 2004 and I wanted to feel that again," Isinbayeva said. "Everyone was so sure that I would win so I felt a lot of pressure."

Isinbayeva also gave her thoughts on the prospects of breaking the number of world records set by pole vault legend Sergei Bubka with 35.

"I will do it. I just have 12 more to go. Life would be boring without records to break so I want to continue on forever.

"It is hard to be more perfect than this. I will still improve and the next goal is London 2012."

Accounting for her success

In August 2005, in an interview with the BBC, top UK pole vault coach Steve Rippon remarked that 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 and she runs extremely well."

Isinbayeva's high level of body control (courtesy of her background in gymnastics) 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.

Personal Life

Her father, Gadzhi Gadzhiyevich Isinbayev, is a plumber and a member of a small (70,000-people strong) ethnic group of Tabasarans who mostly live in Dagestan. Her mother, a shop assistant, is an ethnic Russian. Isinbayeva also has a sister called Inna. Isinbayeva was born in a modest environment and remembers that her parents had to make many financial sacrifices in her early career.

In the Russian club competitions she represents the railroad military team, she is formally an officer in the Russian army, and on August 4, 2005 she was given military rank of senior lieutenant.

In her spare time, Yelena likes to read philosophy and Russian history, as well as maintaining a collection of dolphin figurines.

Her professional endorsements include Adidas and Toshiba.

Know more:
Isinbayeva's Official Homepage
Yelena Isinbayeva's Biography in Wikipedia

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