Yelena Isinbayeva: The Reason I Love the Olympics

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Yelena Isinbayeva: The Reason I Love the Olympics

For many people, the highlight of the Beijing Olympics will be Michael Phelps winning eight golds or Usain Bolt obliterating the rest of the 100m field and his own world record with his shoelace untied.

Maybe as a Brit, I should be lauding the achievements of our track cyclists, picking up seven of a possible 10 gold medals in the velodrome.

But today and yesterday, I saw the two things that make the Olympics special for me.

As Andrew McNair has already written, Yelena Isinbayeva eased to a world record and Olympic gold in the women's pole vault yesterday. She soared majestically to a huge 5.05m—25cm ahead of her nearest rival.

For me, Isinbayeva is the best sportswoman in the world at the moment, untouched and unrivalled in her discipline. When she first broke the world record in 2003 she took it to 4.82m and hasn't looked back.

But today at the medal presentation, we saw past the dominant athlete exuding confidence with her mascara and her painted nails. As she was presented with her gold medal, her second Olympic gold, to go with two World Championship golds, we saw the woman inside.

Her eyes welled up and her face gave into the overwhelming emotion of the occasion. As the Russian national anthem played, tears rolled down her cheeks and I felt a shudder of emotion run through me.

Isinbayeva's gold medal was never in doubt. Her personal best was 12cm higher than that of Stuczynski, her nearest rival, and she has been unbeaten in major championships since a bronze medal at the 2003 World Championships. But, even for an athlete like her, the Olympics maintain a different air and a gold medal is truly something to cherish.

That, for me, is what makes the Olympics what they are. It is the proof that, in the face of its critics, the Olympic Games will continue to grow in strength and reputation.

But for now, we salute Yelena Isinbayeva and her peerless talent.

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