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Womens Pole Vault Provides Stirring Drama at Olympics - 2004-08-26


The women's pole vault provided one of the stirring dramas of the 2004 Olympic track and field competition.

Until the mid 1990s, women's pole vault was not taken very seriously, mainly because the heights being cleared were so far behind the men. But between 1995 and 1999, Australian Emma George broke the women's world record 12 times.

The event was finally added to the Olympics in 2000 in Sydney, but much to the dismay of the partisan crowd, George failed to qualify for the final. The gold medal was won by American Stacy Dragila with a vault of four meters 60 centimeters, three centimeters less than her world record at the time.

Since then, the women's world mark has gone steadily up. And in Athens, it was the first athletics world record to be broken at an Olympics since American runner Michael Johnson broke the mark in the men's 200-meters at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

With Dragila failing to qualify for the finals this time, the competition was heated between two Russian rivals, Yelena Isinbayeva and Svetlana Feofanova. It is well known that they do not get along with one another. Dragila's Olympic mark was shattered by 31 centimeters, as Isinbayeva cleared four meters 91 centimeters.

She actually clinched the gold medal with a leap of 4.80m, as Feofanova was unable to go over the bar at that height.

Ms. Isinbayeva explained what happened after that.

"When I won the gold medal, I went to my coach, and he congratulated me," Ms. Isinbayeva added. "He said, 'let's jump the world record.' I said, 'Yeah, of course, why not?' And the world record was easy for me because I was, I don't know, I was so happy that my energy was there [to do it]."

It came nearly three-and-a-half hours after the competition started, and it was the fourth time this year Yelena Isinbayeva had broken the world record in the women's pole vault. Feofanova, the 2003 world champion, had bettered Isinbayeva's mark on July 4, becoming first woman to clear 16 feet, or 4.88 meters. But Isinbayeva took it back on July 25, with a leap of 4.89 meters, then bettered it again by one centimeter five days later (4.90).

Isinbayeva knows she could have vaulted even higher than 4.91 meters here at the Olympics, but said she is not in any rush, because she knows many athletics meets offer big bonus money for breaking world records.

"I would like to be like [former pole vault star] Sergei Bubka," she added. "I would like to do just a centimeter by one centimeter, because every centimeter is big money. I am not a rich girl. I would like to be rich."

Russian Yelena Isinbayeva says she once vaulted five meters in training this year, so she knows she has the potential to continue to break world records.

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