Beijing: She is the reigning Olympic, world outdoor, world indoor, European, World Athletics Final and World Cup pole vault champion.
She hasn't lost a major meet in nearly five years. In that time, she has set 22 world records. But for all of her accolades, titles and magazine photo shoots, Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva found herself mired last summer in a frustrating dry spell that seemed to sour some of her victories. She hadn't upped her outdoor world mark since the summer of 2005. After a major meet last summer, she actually apologized for failing to improve her world record.
Maybe if some girls would jump 4.8 [meters; 15 feet 9 inches] I would feel more pressure," she said, "and jump higher."
She has gotten her dual wish; this summer will reveal whether it inspires or upends her. American Jennifer Stuczynski, a latecomer to the sport, supplied the pressure by breaking the American record in the pole vault this year with a jump of 16-1 3/4 inches (4.92 meters). Not surprisingly, just five days later, Isinbayeva finally re-set the world record, upping it from 16-5 1/4 to 16-6 (5.01 to 5.03 meters) in July.
Whether Stuczynski can challenge Isinbayeva as much as she motivates her to new heights will be determined in Beijing. Stuczynski, who began competing in the pole vault in 2005, finished second to Isinbayeva at the world indoor championships in March, but she managed just an 11th place at the outdoor world championships in Osaka last year. It was her first major championship event.
Isinbayeva, of course, won it.
"In general I'm very glad about Stuczynski's progress," Isinbayeva wrote last year on her Web site about Stuczynski's progress. "When there is no competition, it's difficult. . . . But now I'm even training with the men in order to see how I'm progressing. There are some strong vaulters, but something is always insufficient for them. . . . I really look forward to when someone finally challenges me."