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Yelena Isinbayeva: Pole Vault Record-Breaker

The Russian ex-gymnast became the world pole vault queen


Yelena Isinbayeva: Pole Vault Record-Breaker

Yelena Isinbayeva

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

When Yelena Isinbayeva began pole vaulting, the women's version of the event was still in its youth. When she left - perhaps temporarily - after the 2013 season, the women's pole vault was an accepted and highly popular part of track and field, in part because of the skill and grace she brought to the event.

The Dominator:

Isinbayeva dominated women's pole vaulting from 2004 through 2008. In her peak 2008 season, The Russian extending her existing world outdoor record to 5.03 meters (16 feet, 2 inches) early in the season, then improved it at the Beijing Olympic Games, winning the gold with a leap of 5.05/16-6¾. Isinbayeva broke her own world indoor record in February 2009 by clearing 5.00/16-4¾. She struggled through the 2009 outdoor season before shockingly no-heighting in the World Championships, then rebounded by breaking her outdoor record in August, leaping 5.06/16-7¼. Championships eluded the Russian in 2010 and 2011, but she improved the indoor world mark to 5.01/16-5¼ in 2012, although Jenn Suhr broke the mark in 2013. Isinbayeva won the World Indoor Championship in 2012, then took a bronze medal at the London Olympics.

From Gymnast to Vaulter:

Isinbayeva began her athletic life as a gymnast, training in the sport from age 5 through 15, at which point she was considered too tall for gymnastics at 5-9. Her height and strength are beneficial for pole vaulting, however. Meanwhile, her gymnastic skills didn’t go to waste – the body control she learned is particularly helpful at the top of her vault.

Broken Record:

Isinbayeva was so dominating that her main measuring stick was often her own past performances. Her 5.06-meter outdoor vault in 2009 and 5.01 indoor performance in 2012 marked the 27th and 28th times she set a world pole vault record.

Career Highlights:

Isinbayeva was unbeaten in major world competition from 2004-08. She won the gold at the Athens Olympics, three straight World Indoor Championships from 2004-08, plus the 2005 and ’07 World Outdoor Championships. She then provided her home fans with one last thrill by winning the 2013 World Championship gold medal in Moscow, with a clearance of 4.89/16-½. Afterward Isinbayeva announced that she was leaving track and field to begin a family, but left the door open to return for the 2016 Olympics.


  • Height: 5-9
  • Weight: 146
  • Birth date: June 3, 1982
  • Hometown: Volgograd, Russia
  • Personal Best: 5.06 meters (16 feet, 7¼ inches)



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