`I do enjoy the solitude of success'

"It was my dream to win the Olympic gold with a world record," Isinbayeva said after her sensational 5.05m vault. One of the most popular athletes in Beijing, the Chinese media called her the Pole Queen. This is what she says about herself: "I do enjoy the solitude of success"; and: "I feel I don't have any limits but the sky." Yelena is eager to catch up with her idol, pole-vaulter Sergei Bubka. Which means another 11 world records.
Lena (as she is known) was under great pressure before Beijing. She could not afford a setback of the kind the Russian team suffered in the first Olympic week - it would have discouraged everyone and, because of her status, it would have been seen as the entire team's failure.

The pressure was too great even for this steeled athlete. I heard her on the telephone to a manager in the Olympic Village: "We're on our way, my trainer and me. You know I hate being disturbed. Please do something."

But nothing could be done - she was too popular.

Fellow athletes pestered her for autographs and snapshots. Fans were even more persistent. Responsibility balanced popularity - sports managers, the President, the Prime Minister and the nation demanded a world record of her.

The superstar of contemporary athletics, Isinbayeva has to win every event and set record after record to live up to her reputation.

She trains in Italy and Monaco and lives a nomadic life dashing between them with short trips home to Volgograd.

I asked her once what were her impressions of the Prince's Palace. It turned out she had no idea there was a palace in Monaco - she had no time for a 20-minute uphill walk, let alone sightseeing.

She had never been to the beach, which attracts holidaymakers from the whole world, and never had a dip in the sea - not just this season, but really never. She rushes to her tiny flat for a nap after training, and back to training.

The attractive 26-year-old takes her asceticism for granted. Athletic success is short-lived, she says. But nshe does yearn for the good times she will have after leaving international sport.

In this interview, Lena spoke out for the first time. She had made it a point to conceal her plans before.

"I must stay in shape for the London Olympics," she said.

So there's another four years of sweating it out?

"I want to set another world record in London. I looked forward to Beijing and London records back in Athens. I thought I would quit sport after London.

"But then - Moscow will host world championships in 2013. Why not take part? I really enjoy it when the Russian anthem is played in my honour."

Why did Lena cry on the podium in Beijing? It had been an easy victory, after all, in just two jumps.

"Easy, did you say? I can't find words to describe my exertion. But I never show my feelings. I break records and win medals not for myself but for my country, and I take pride in what I do for Russia."

She made 5.05m. Would she have been unhappy and frustrated if she hadn't? And what does she think her ceiling is?

"I had to do it. I must live up to my reputation. As for my ceiling, I am not so sure. I thought it was 5.10 until Petrov said it was 5.15 or even 5.20. I believe my trainer."

Lena shocked the athletic world two years ago when she left Yevgeny Trofimov of her native Volgograd for Vitaly Petrov, who trained the renowned Sergei Bubka. The embittered Trofimov said she needed no trainer at all after his schooling - a plumber would do just as well. I don't think he was right.

Lena had a bad spell after she moved to Italy, where Petrov lived, and changed her technique. That was not a time for records. Some said she was past her prime, she should not have changed her trainer, and should not have moved abroad.

"See, I had come to the end of my tether. I needed new motivations," says Lena. "I could no longer do anything without a shake-up. Records would come later.

"Setting records is a subtle thing. One must have everything at once - the mood, the weather, the pole, the pit and other things - all in a happy combination."

She had her happy combination at last, and records came. Russia's favourite justified her fans' hopes in Beijing.

She dropped her mask of tough assurance for an instant at the Russian delegation office of the Olympic Village when she received a gift - her statue by an anonymous sculptor. When everyone else had gone and Lena and I were alone, she broke into laughter.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Can one ever jump like this?" she asked.


"See, when I jump I think about my boy. I dedicate my records to him."

She always cuts me short me when I intrude into her privacy. That time, too, I dared ask her about that mysterious boy.

She stopped laughing abruptly.

"What does it matter? The only thing that matters is that there is a man I love." -


Even though she lives abroad, Isinbayeva is a Russian military officer on active service - a senior lieutenant of the Railway Troops.

During important contests, Yelena whispers something before jumping - an incantation? When asked what she was whispering, she always has the same reply: "You just find the words to put the fight into you."

After setting a record, she always calls home, and always with the same words: "Mum, Dad, hi! Hi, little sister! Hi, Kitty darling!" Her greatest frustration is that she cannot take her kitten away with her.

Moscow celebrated her latest world record with a fountain built in the city's southeast. Its jet is 5.05m high, and the height will change with new records.

Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva is starting a fashion line in her name, and a perfume for which she has invented a name. Infatuated with the idea, she says her perfume will be for strong, resolute and purposeful women. She is looking for partners.

`I thought I would quit after London. But then - Moscow will host world championships in 2013. Why not take part? I really enjoy it when the Russian anthem is played in my honour'

`It was my cherished dream to win the Olympic gold with a world record,' Yelena Isinbayeva said after her sensational 5.05m vault at Beijing

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