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Pole Vault world record. The fallen of the Goddess?

Yelena-Isinbayeva1This could possibly be the fallen of a Goddess? During the US indoor Championship of the 2nd March, at Aulbuquerque in New Mexico, the feminine pole vault world record have been broken by Jennifer Suhr, with a 5,02m cleared neatly at the first try. The perfection of that jump, made Suhr confident that would also be possible to broke the outdoor record of 5,06m, setting so the all time best female measure.

If already the fact is something out of the ordinary, what makes it even more relevant is the psychological aspect that the passing of that record could cause in the opponents of Yelena Isinbayeva. It was nearly 9 years that one of her records wouldn’t be broken from an athlete different than herself. The last one who managed to do it, had been Isinabyeva’s compatriot Svetlana Feofanova, the 4th July 2004, when at Heraklion (Greece) she cleared 4,88m. The Feofanova, at the time, was the reigning world champion, having won the world title the year before during the championships held at St. Denis in Paris, and, though Yelena had already started to set her firsts world records, was after the 2004 Olympics in Athens, held less then two months later, that started her undisputed reign, lasted until the debacle at the world championships of Berlin in 2009. Hence, another historical period.

Until yesterday, though in the last years the ex oppressor of the pole vault’s fields had amply demonstrated that she became beatable also by some common mortals, still remained the fact that she was the only one able to dominate an historical measure for the female pole vault, like the one of the 5 meters. This fact made her out of reach for the other pole vaulters at the eyes of the fans and probably inflicted to her opponents a bit of reverence. But what will happen now that this last stronghold has been tore down? Could Jennifer Suhr, after having won the Olympic title in London and robbed Yelena of her world record, open a new era of the feminine pole vault? In the past in track and field there has already been a pair of demonstrations that some unexpected results completely revolutionized a specialty. The first revolution go back up to 1954, thanks to the making of Sir Roger Bannister; while the second is much more recent and  dates the years following the Beijing’s Olympics, taken into scene by nonetheless that Usain Bolt, the fastest man on Earth.

The history of Sir Roger Bannister is widely known. The 6th May 1954 he was the first man to run a mile under the 4 minutes. Running in 3’59”4, Bannister lowered the previous record, owned by Gunder Hägg for the last 9 years, of exactly 2 seconds. At this point happened something that none had prevented: a specialty that for nearly a decade remained rather stagnant, suddenly a big number of athletes started to run over that barrier that the doctors, only some months before, believed to be the limits of the human beings body.

The second revolution passed, at the opposite, a bit more underestimated, but it’s not of a small account. In the field of the sprint race, before the arrival of the Jamaican wave of the last 7-8 years, the time remained stuck at the world record Maurice Green set more than 10 years before, if we exclude the record of Tim Montgomery (cancelled for proves of doping at the time of its obtaining). Asafa Powell already started to hammer down times under the 9”79 of the old world limit, but the arrival on the scenes of Usain Bolt definitely revolutionized the history of the 100m. After him, in fact, a great number of other athletes started to run constantly times that only some years ago would mean world records and glory, given the fact that nowadays the 30 first all-time best performance has been set in the last 5 years.

What does this unbelievable performance demonstrate? They demonstrate that mind in sport makes much more difference than, despite everything, still seems, and that when a barrier becomes beatable, mentally more than physically, everything can happen. Until yesterday Yelena Isinbayeva was unattainable by everyone, now it’s not. And who knows how many athletes that are now in the surroundings of 4,80m (not tens but not only one) in the next months could face the measure of the 5 meters, confidents that does not represent an insuperable barrier any more.

Going back to my initial question, I’m brought to ask myself how will be remembered Yelena Isinbayeva in the future. Given that she definitely represented the biggest part in the still young story of this discipline, and that for this fact she will always deserve to be recorded in history, will she be remembered as the best of all the times, like for example Serhij Bubka, or in a group of very important athletes, but that could rightly seat with her in the same table? Considering that, as already said, the female pole vault is a discipline still very young, her records will surely be beaten, sooner or later, but how not to think to all the rumors going around when she used to crank out world records at every meeting she jumped in, that during her training she was regularly clearing measures higher than the ones she would eventually try during the races? So, considering that it’s to be demonstrated that those rumors were true, isn’t possible that she fell into the greediness of the economical sureness that setting a world record centimeter par centimeter could give her, instead of trying to realize a world record for the generations to come? Which measure she could fairly aspire to jump without auto-imposing, maybe also in the searching of incitement for the lack of external competition, that slow progression toward economic security? I fear we will never discover it, and it’s a pity, more for her than for us, for the greatest pole vault jumper that until now stepped on track and field’s fields.

(You can find my original article in Italian here: Record del mondo dell’asta femminile. La caduta di un mito?)

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