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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 July 2005, 07:58 GMT 08:58 UK
Raising the bar
By Sarah Holt

YELENA'S RECORD CHASE
Yelena Isinbayeva celebrates after going beyond five metres
4.82m Gateshead July 2003
4.86m Budapest March 2004
4.87m Gateshead June 2004
4.89m Birmingham July 2004
4.90m London July 2004
4.91m Athens August 2004
4.92m Brussels Sept 2004
4.93m Lausanne July 2005
4.95m Madrid July 2005
5.00m London July 2005
Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva has become the first woman to soar over five metres in the pole vault - but just how great is the Russian's feat?

The 23-year-old from Volgograd has taken women's pole vaulting to a new level since breaking the world record for the first time in Gateshead two years ago.

And breaking the 5m barrier at the Norwich Union London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace on Friday is certainly a landmark achievement.

But because women's pole vault is still evolving, not everyone believes it is necessarily the major breakthrough it seems.

"It's difficult to rank Isinbayeva's achievement with events such as the first four-minute mile and the first sub-10 second 100m," says BBC Sport commentator Steve Cram.

"Those events have been around longer so we just don't have the comparisons."

The event is so new that governing body the IAAF only began ratifying world records in 1995, when the first mark of 4.05m was set by China's Sun Caiyun.

By the time it was first included in the 2000 Olympics, Stacy Dragila had soared more than half a metre higher, taking the gold medal with 4.60m.

The American did much to widen the appeal of the sport, setting eight outdoor world records and becoming the first woman to go over 4.80m.

HISTORY OF THE POLE VAULT
Pole vaults were first used practically to jump over bogs and canals
Competitions were held by the ancient Greeks but modern events began around 1850
In the 1896 Olympics the men's record was set with a bamboo pole at 3.2m
Women's pole vaulting grew in the 1990s and was added to the Olympics in 2000
Ukrainian Sergei Bubka holds the men's world record at 6.14m
Russian Yelena Isinbayeva holds the women's world record at 5m

But it was not long before Dragila herself was left behind, first by Russian Svetlana Feofanova and then her arch-rival Isinbayeva.

Each athlete brought new skills to the event.

While Dragila trained as a heptathlete before switching events, Feofanova was a gymnast, possessing the kind of gravity-defying qualities that made her a natural for her new event.

Isinbayeva, in contrast, was a pole vaulter from the start, combining her obvious talent with the crucial ingredients of drive, determination and professionalism.

Three years after the IAAF officially recognised the sport, she took part in her first major competition - the 1998 World Junior Championships - aged just 16.

Then in 1999 she won her first gold medal at the World Youth Games with a clearance of 4.10m.

In 2004, she claimed her first major gold at the World Indoors with a world record-breaking mark of 4.86m.

And since that breakthrough, the 5m-mark has seemed inevitable, especially given her coach's regular reports that she often goes beyond that height in training.

Yelena Isinbayeva and men's world record holder Sergei Bubka
Isinbayeva has her sights on eclipsing Bubka's 35 world records

In fading daylight but in perfectly still conditions, Isinbayeva finally emulated what she has done countless times in practice at the London Grand Prix.

The sell-out crowd at Crystal Palace saw for themselves her unique way of psyching herself up.

Prior to each vault, Isinbayeva indulges in a one-on-one chat with her pole, chanting a secret mantra over and over in a bid to generate extra power.

Just what she says to her pole remains a secret - but the ritual is clearly paying off.

Cynics have suggested Isinbayeva has inched her way to 5m in order to claim the $50,000 bonus awarded for each new record set.

But the Russian insists the frequent cash injections are not the chief motivating factor.

"Money is always nice and the more the better but it's not the reason why I compete and try to break records," she says.

"I chose to do it step by step. This way you have some suspense and it's more exciting for the audience."

Now the money is in the bank and the 5m-mark written into the record books, can we expect Isinbayeva to advance the sport further?

"Isinbayeva's feat will go down as a landmark achievement because she is setting the standards others can aim at," Cram told the BBC Sport website.

"She is so much better than everybody else so she will go higher. And we should see a knock-on effect in a couple of years with other athletes doing the same.

"Sergei Bubka has said for a while that 5m should be the true benchmark for world-class women's pole vault. Now Isinbayeva has made that a reality."




WATCH AND LISTEN
Highlights: London Grand Prix


Interview: Yelena Isinbayeva



SEE ALSO
Another world mark for Isinbayeva
16 Jul 05 |  Athletics
Isinbayeva reaches new world mark
05 Jul 05 |  Athletics
Isinbayeva claims new world best
26 Feb 05 |  Athletics
Isinbayeva wins pole vault
24 Aug 04 |  Athletics


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