MOSCOW — Yelena Isinbayeva finally brought the world track and field championships to life with a third pole vault world title in front of an ecstatic Russian home crowd on Tuesday.
Isinbayeva, 31, ended a five-year title drought when she soared 4.89 meters (16 feet, ø inch) to win it from American Olympic champion and Fredonia native Jennifer Suhr – before failing to raise her world record to 5.07 meters (16-7ø).
Isinbayeva is the biggest star in athletics along with Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. She has world titles from 2005 and 2007, Olympic gold from 2004 and 2008 and has set a staggering 28 world records. Suhr won Olympic gold in 2012.
Like at previous big meets, the charismatic Isinbayeva wrapped the crowd around her fingers and relegated all other finals to secondary events.
LaShawn Merritt regained the men’s 400-meter title; Ethiopian teenager Mohammed Aman won 800-meter gold; German Olympic champion Robert Harting a third discus title; Kenya’s Micah Chemos the 3,000-meter steeplechase and Ukraine’s Ganna Melnichenko the heptathlon.
The day started with a 20-kilometer walk gold for Russia from Elena Lashmanova and Isinbayeva wrapped up the action in unforgettable fashion.
Her sheer presence transformed the championship from a poorly attended and rather dull meet to an all-but-full-house party.
Isinbayeva started at 4.62 meters (15-1¾) and mounted the pressure on her remaining rivals when she cleared 16 feet on her first attempt.
Suhr failed and when Yarisley Silva also didn’t clear her last attempt Isinbayeva raced off to hug long-time coach Yevgeny Trofimov even before the Cuban had landed. Both Suhr and Silva cleared 15-9¾. Suhr got the silver medal on fewer misses.
The Russian said after qualifying that she will take a break to have a family and a baby, but aims to return for the Beijing 2015 worlds and Rio 2016 worlds, if all goes well.
She had faded in recent years, taking 2010 off, returning to her long-time coach Trofimov, finishing only sixth at the 2011 worlds and having to settle for bronze at the 2012 Olympics behind Suhr and Silva.
Merritt got his second 400-meter world title following 2009, to go with Olympic gold in 2008, with a strong run of 43.74 seconds finishing in front of Tony McQuay of the U.S.
Holder and 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenanda had to settle for seventh.
“I have said many times already that I am hungry. It has been a while since I was able to perform at my highest level. I knew what I had to do, I just had to produce it,” Merritt said.