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Yelena Isinbayeva

Prince of Asturias Award for Sports 2009

 Yelena Isinbayeva (Volgograd, Russia, 1982) is the only female pole-vaulter ever to clear the 5.00 metre barrier. She started training as a gymnast and continued to do so until she was 15, when she chose to pursue pole-vaulting as a sport. Yelena has since achieved a total of 28 world records in this sport, 15 outdoor and 123 indoor.

Isinbayeva claimed her first major victory early in her career, with a winning height of 3.5 meters. She later jumped 4 meters at the 1998 World Junior Championships in Annecy, France. In 1999, Isinbayeva took her first gold medal at the World Youth Championships in Bydgoszcz (Poland), clearing 4.10 meters. At the 2000 World Juniors in Chile, she again took first place clearing 4.20 m. The same year she made her debut in the Olympic Games in Sydney and in 2001, she won another gold medal, with a winning height of 4.40 meters at the European Junior Championships in Italy.

Isinbayeva’s first major sporting achievements came in 2002. In addition to a silver medal at the European Championships in Munich she won the gold medal at the Russian National Championships both indoor and outdoor. In 2003 she won gold at the European Under 23 Championships in Poland and later set her first World Record at a meeting in Gateshead, England with a height of 4.82 metres. This achievement made her the favourite to take gold at the World Championships in Paris that same year, although she ended up winning the bronze medal. In March 2004 at the World's Indoor Championship in Budapest, Isinbayeva set a new record with a jump of 4.86 metres. During the following months she broke her record several times, claiming the world record in July with a height of 4.90 metres.

Isinbayeva set a new World and Olympic record at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, with a gold medal winning jump of 4.91 metres. She broke her own record in September that year in Brussels with a 4.92 metre jump and in July 2005, Isinbayeva broke the world record four times over three separate international meetings. First in Lausanne, Switzerland, clearing 4.93 metres, then at the indoor European Championships in Madrid, where she cleared 4.95 metres to win gold, and finally in London, improving the record to 4.96 metres. She later cleared the mythical five-metre barrier in pole vaulting, which she once again broke in Helsinki, raising the bar to 5.01 metres although she had already won the title.

In 2006, she set a new world indoor record when she cleared 4.91 metres at an indoor meeting in Ukraine, and won the gold medal during the outdoor European Athletics Championships in Gothenburg (Switzerland). In that same year, she won the gold medal at the World Cup in Athens and remained world champion at the 2007 World Championships in Japan. During the 2008 indoor season Isinbayeva set her twenty-first world record, clearing 4.95 metres in Ukraine and then won the World Indoor Championships in Valencia. At her first outdoor competition of the season, in Rome, Isinbayeva broke her own world record, clearing 5.03 metres. She broke the record soon after in Monaco, jumping 5.04 metres. Isinbayeva regained her title of world champion in Beijing and went on to finish the competition with a height of 5.05 metres, her 24th world record. In 2009, she raised her world indoor mark twice in Donetsk (Ukraine) with a vault of 5.0 metres, and then her outdoor mark in Zurich, which she raised to 5.06 metres. In 2004, 2005 and 2008 she was selected World Athlete of the Year by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and, in 2007 and 2009, she received the Laureus World Sports Award for Sportswoman of the Year.

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