NEWCASTLE (Reuters) - World pole vault record holder Yelena Isinbayeva returns to action on Sunday after almost a year out to repair a battered ego and rediscover her love of the sport. She is feeling, she says, not a shred of nerves.
The Russian held a packed Beijing Bird’s Nest Stadium in her thrall in the 2008 Games, soaring solo late into the night to better the world record once again having long ago seen off all-comers to win a second, successive Olympic gold.
Her bewitching mixture of chutzpah, glamour and an extraordinary gift for her chosen discipline had long confirmed her anyway as global track and field’s biggest female draw.
But within a year, the strain began to tell as chinks in a hitherto flawless competitive armoury appeared culminating in a shock defeat at the World Indoor Championships in March having failed to post even a legal jump in the outdoor event in 2009.
Those results, she said, flattened her ego and she went away to lick her wounds and rethink her life and approach to a sport which has consumed her since she was 15.
Now, aged 28, she is back and ready to reclaim the spotlight, starting on Sunday at the Russian Winter Meeting in Moscow. Isinbayeva is returning to her homeland to start again.
“No, I am not nervous at all,” she told Reuters before making her way to Moscow this week after a winter of training at her Italian base in Florence.
“I have had several months of training with my coach Vitaliy Petrov and we have prepared well for this indoor season.
“I would say my training this winter season has been very good. What we expect in Moscow, I cannot say for 100 percent sure but I know I am in very good shape and condition.
“So there is no need to be nervous or concerned. I am healthy and very motivated to do my best. Plus I am competing in Moscow in front of many wonderful fans and I always enjoy coming to Russia to compete.”
Isinbayeva, whose first serious test after an 11 months absence will be challenging for the European Indoor title in March, has meets also scheduled in Donetsk and Stockholm.
Although very important fixtures in assessing her form, the two-time Olympic champion said regaining her World Outdoors crown remains the primary aim for the year.
“We have not looked past this indoor season,” Isinbayeva coached by Vitaliy Petrov, continued. “I want to first re-establish myself and show that I am on top of my event again.
“Then we will look at outdoors. But of course the most important for me is Daegu and the Outdoor World Championships in August.”
The two-times Olympic champion, holder of 15 world outdoor and 12 indoor records and still determined to better the tally of 35 set by her mentor Sergey Bubka, is not setting any immediate targets of how high she can vault.
At present, her personal best — and the top mark in the world — is 5.06 metres.
“We will have to see how each competition goes and what happens,” she said. “I cannot make any predictions. Every competition presents new situations and you have to adapt to the circumstances.
“I am not looking past this weekend in Moscow,” she insisted although admitting her next appearance at Bubka’s meeting in the Ukraine where she has set six world indoors records might lift her to achieving something special.
“I like that I go to Donetsk to Sergey Bubka’s Pole Vault All-Stars the following week,” she said. “I have always performed well in this event and I enjoy it very much.
“Then I will compete in Stockholm for my first time indoors. So that is something special for me. I have heard a lot about the surface at the arena from other vaulters so I am very interested in competing there too.”
(Editing by Jon Bramley
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