Yelena Isinbayeva: Pole Vault Record-Breaker

The Russian ex-gymnast became the world pole vault queen

Superstar pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva celebrates her 2008 victory, during which she broke the pole vault world record. Nick Laham/Getty Images

When Yelena Isinbayeva began pole vaulting, the women's version of the event was still in its youth. When she left - perhaps temporarily - after the 2013 season, the women's pole vault was an accepted and highly popular part of track and field, in part because of the skill and grace she brought to the event.

The Dominator

Isinbayeva dominated women's pole vaulting from 2004 through 2008. In her peak 2008 season, The Russian extending her existing world outdoor record to 5.03 meters (16 feet, 2 inches) early in the season, and then improved it at the Beijing Olympic Games, winning the gold with a leap of 5.05/16-6¾.

Isinbayeva broke her own world indoor record in February 2009 by clearing 5.00/16-4¾. She struggled through the 2009 outdoor season before shockingly no-heighting in the World Championships, then rebounded by breaking her outdoor record in August, leaping 5.06/16-7¼. Championships eluded Isinbayeva in 2010 and 2011, but she improved the indoor world mark to 5.01/16-5¼ in 2012, although Jenn Suhr broke the indoor mark in 2013. Isinbayeva won the World Indoor Championship in 2012, and then took a bronze medal at the London Olympics.

From Gymnast to Vaulter

Isinbayeva began her athletic life as a gymnast, training in the sport from age 5 through 15, at which point she was considered too tall for gymnastics at 5-9. Her height and strength are beneficial for pole vaulting, however. Meanwhile, her gymnastic skills didn’t go to waste – the body control she learned is particularly helpful at the top of her vault.

Broken Record

Isinbayeva was so dominating that her main measuring stick was often her own past performances. Her 5.06-meter outdoor vault in 2009 and 5.01 indoor performance in 2012 marked the 27th and 28th times she set a world pole vault record.

Career Highlights

Isinbayeva was unbeaten in major world competition from 2004-08.

She won the gold at the Athens Olympics, three straight World Indoor Championships from 2004-08, plus the 2005 and ’07 Outdoor World Championships. She then provided her home fans with one last thrill by winning the 2013 World Championship gold medal in Moscow, with a clearance of 4.89/16-½. Afterward Isinbayeva announced that she was leaving track and field to begin a family, but left the door open to return for the 2016 Olympics. The IAAF has named Isinbayeva as its Female Athlete of the Year three times, in 2004-05 and 2008.

Isinbayeva, who is married to javelin thrower Nikita Petinov, gave birth to a daughter in 2014. Earlier that year she served as one of the Olympic Village "mayors".at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. She returned to training in 2015, in hopes of competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics.


  • Height: 5-9
  • Weight: 146
  • Birth date: June 3, 1982
  • Hometown: Volgograd, Russia
  • Personal Best: 5.06 meters (16 feet, 7¼ inches)


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Your Citation
Rosenbaum, Mike. "Yelena Isinbayeva: Pole Vault Record-Breaker." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2015, Rosenbaum, Mike. (2015, December 6). Yelena Isinbayeva: Pole Vault Record-Breaker. Retrieved from Rosenbaum, Mike. "Yelena Isinbayeva: Pole Vault Record-Breaker." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 24, 2017).