Yelena Isinbayeva: When the Hunter Becomes the Hunted

Sudeshna BanerjeeAnalyst IAugust 19, 2009

She had been a fairy rising and soaring gleefully to unimaginable heights leaving all the others trailing.

She had built an empire that stood strong and impervious.

But on Aug. 17, the fairy’s wings suddenly got clipped and she gravitated back to earth while her precious empire came crashing down.

And she was left forlorn and friendless, humbled and hurt, staring at the vast emptiness ahead of her with tears in her eyes.

Yelena Isinbayeva, the pole-vaulting czarina’s defeat left everybody at the Berlin Olympic Stadium shocked and stupefied.

The Russian’s hegemony since the 2003 Paris World Championships finally came to a grinding halt and her mask of invincibility was pierced.

If Usain Bolt’s extraordinary victory had guaranteed his ascension to immortality, this particular defeat most certainly guaranteed the Russian’s descension to the mere mortal world and establishes that every athlete is a human after all.

Perhaps the first hint of this seismic shock was given by the eventual World Champion, Anna Rogowska at the London Grand Prix when she beat the Russian supremo just a few weeks before this prestigious meet.

But then everybody was reluctant to comprehend the consequences of that defeat and the importance of Rogowska’s achievement was overlooked and dismissed as one freak incident.

But on Monday, in front of a vociferous crowd, Rogowska underlined her status as a true world-beater as she compounded Isinbayeva’s misery even further, who painfully watched curtains come down on her staggering reign.

Staggering indeed. After all Isinbayeva often referred to as the female Sergei Bubka remains the only woman to surpass five meters.

The reigning Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year is a holder of a humongous number of 26 World Records!

She had been the conqueror of the last four global titles before this elite event—the two Olympics and the two World Championships and beating her was thought to be a fool’s dream.

Rogowska turned that dream into an unthinkable reality as Yelena inexplicably failed to clear 4.75 meters once and 4.80 meters twice and was left sobbing.

Was it complacency or sheer overconfidence that has born out of her countless number of successes? Or was it a psychological breakdown after remembering the fact that this very woman had succeeded in toppling her the last time they competed? Or was it plain bad luck?

Whatever it was, this implausible defeat is the latest in the ending of eras as we have earlier witnessed Spanish tennis ace Rafael Nadal’s dominance at the hallowed Roland Garros and the Australian cricket team’s strangle-hold over an Ashes test at the ''Mecca of Cricket'', Lord’s both come to an end.

Like them, Yelena is a supremely talented and graceful athlete and will remain so and will hopefully bounce back at the 2012 London Olympics as she has promised, but at least for now she has to bear with the bitter taste of defeat.

The hunter has truly become the hunted for once.