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Isinbayeva on top of the world

August 25, 2004 17:25 IST

Tearful Yelena Isinbayeva beat her own world record to snatch the Olympic women's pole vault gold from Russian team mate and bitter rival Svetlana Feofanova on Tuesday.

Isinbayeva, who accumulates world records at the same rate as former men's champion Sergei Bubka, defied difficult, windy conditions to come back from the brink of defeat and win with 4.91 metres, surpassing her own mark by one centimetre.

Former gymnast Feofanova, the world champion, was second with 4.75 and Anna Rogowska of Poland took the bronze with 4.70.

It was Isinbayeva's seventh world record this year yet the 22-year-old had been close to breaking down moments earlier.

Her dramatic victory came from an inspired gamble.

In the bronze position and one jump away from elimination after failing at 4.70 and 4.75, and with Feofanova and Rogowska ahead of her, Isinbayeva put up the bar to 4.80.

Close to tears as she faced defeat, she managed to compose herself and clear majestically, earning one of the biggest roars of the night from a sell-out Olympic stadium.

Her confidence and smile back, she then emphasised her domination by clearing 4.85 before sailing over the record height.

"After those two misses I felt so unhappy, I was so dissatisfied with myself. I don't want to boast but I'm not used to bronzes and I'm not used to losing," a bubbly Isinbayeva told a news conference. "It's all or nothing with me.

"It was one of those key moments in life -- I was just thinking of how much I had done to get to Athens. I told myself: 'You are the favourite.'"

Her performance -- the first athletics world record in Athens -- so impressed Feofanova that the pair, who have publicly admitted that they are not close, exchanged friendly words and smiles at the end. The event always looked like a two-horse race, the Russian pair having exchanged the world record almost month-by-month over the past two-and-a-half years.

They share nothing else in common.

Isinbayeva is dark-haired, tanned, wears make-up and plays to the crowd. Feofanova is red-haired, freckled, frowning and as pale as a ghost. They live in different cities, with Isinbayeva describing theirs as a "hi and goodbye" relationship.

They both came in at 4.40 and cleared without scares up to 4.65, Feofanova looking the more tense while Isinbayeva, soaring over each time, won over the crowd with blown kisses.

But Isinbayeva then inexplicably lost her rhythm with her failures at 4.70 and 4.75.

Distraught, she sat down and covered her head with a towel for almost 10 minutes.

"After clearing 4.80, the world record was no problem," she said. "I already knew by then that I was the champion, that gave me strength, it made me bolder."

There had been tears in the qualifiers as well, when 2000 Olympic champion Stacy Dragila failed to reach the final. The American blamed new shoes for her inept performance.

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