By Justin Palmer
YELENA Isinbayeva, the greatest woman pole vaulter of all time, thrilled a partisan home crowd roaring her every jump when she landed the third and probably last world title of her illustrious career on Tuesday.
The Russian, twice Olympic champion and world outdoor record holder, was the only vaulter to clear 4.89 metres.
It was a season’s best leap for the 31-year-old, the first woman to clear the revered five metres barrier, who said before the championships that she would retire.
American Olympic champion Jenn Surh took silver and Cuban Yarisley Silva bronze. Both failed at 4.89 after clearing 4.82.
After a nervous start when she failed with her first attempt after entering the competition at 4.65, a measure of her confidence with her rivals already up and running, Isinbayeva grew in stature.
With a chorus of “Yelena Yelena” reverberating around the Luzhniki stadium, the biggest crowd of a poorly attended championships so far, each clearance was greeted by a cacophony of approval.
Isinbayeva rewarded the support with punches in the air and squeals of delight. When gold was assured she ran to the crowd and embraced her coach.
Milking the moment and urging the crowd to raise the decibel level further, she asked for the bar to be raised to 5.07, one centimetre above the world record she set in 2009.
Three unsuccessful attempts followed but it could not spoil the former gymnast’s celebrations as she set off for a lap of the track which featured a cartwheel and back-flip.
Isinbayeva was virtually unbeatable between 2003 and 2008, when she kept raising the bar higher and higher, often by a centimetre at a time.
But plagued by injury and poor form and after failing to register a height in the 2009 world championships, she decided to take a break from the sport, returning after an 11-month absence.
She was again outside the medals at the 2011 worlds but took bronze at last year’s London Olympics.
Elsewhere, LaShawn Merritt returned the United States to the top of the 400 metres podium with a commanding performance as defending champion Kirani James faded badly to finish a surprise seventh.
Merritt took the race on from the gun and went out hard over the first 200 but, unlike James, the American had plenty left in the tank coming into the home straight to seal victory in a world-leading 43.74 seconds.
Compatriot Tony McQuay was second in 44.40 and fast-finishing Luguelin Santos of Dominican Republic edged out Belgium’s Jonathan Borlee for bronze in 44.52.
Merritt was world champion in 2009 but finished behind the young Grenadian in Daegu two years ago. He is the only man to beat James this season.
By Justin Palmer