Moscow finds a high point as brilliant Yelena Isinbayeva turns back the clock
Surprise in men’s 400 metres as Kirani James hits the wall on home straight
Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia competes in the women’s pole vault at the Luzhniki Stadium. The 31-year-old triumphed with a leap of 4.89 metres. Photograph: Dominic Ebenbichler/Reuters
The world championships finally caught fire as the fans turned up to say farewell to Yelena Isinbayeva, only for the Russian pole vault queen to roll back the years and win an emotional gold medal against all the odds.
Without a global title since 2008, struggling for form and due to retire after this event, the 31-year-old fed off the energy produced by a finally near-full and raucous Luzhniki Stadium to triumph with a leap of 4.89 metres.
Ever the show-woman, Isinbayeva ended the night with an assault on her own world record, set in her pomp when she won the second of her Olympic titles in Beijing.
With chants of “Yelena” ringing in her ears, she fell short, but there was no trace of disappointment from her, the crowd or the organisers who finally got the memorable night they had craved.
There was plenty of drama elsewhere as LaShawn Merritt won the 400 metres as defending world and Olympic champion Kirani James hit the wall on the home straight.
The hundreds of yellow and blue-clad Ukraine fans, who had done their best to bring atmosphere to the stadium during the first few days, also got their reward when Ganna Melnichenko triumphed in the heptathlon.
Robert Harting claimed his third successive discus gold, Ethiopia’s Mohammed Aman won the 800 metres and Milcah Chemos Cheywa took the women’s steeplechase but outside their own countries they will not get a look-in on Wednesday’s sports pages.
Most big athletics events advertise themselves with an image of a sprinter but the posters around Moscow have a pole vaulter as their centrepiece and now the world knows why.
Twice Olympic and world champion, four-times world indoor champion and multiple world record holder, Isinbayeva has been an icon of the sport.
But after finishing sixth in the last world championships and third at the 2012 Olympics it seemed as if the glory days were behind her.
American Jenn Suhr and Yarisley Silva of Cuba, who had the five best vaults of the year, came to Moscow as favourites.
The home fans had other ideas, however, having finally decided to attend in numbers after nights of embarrassingly low crowds.
Yesterday felt different – they even mustered their first Mexican wave – and Isinbayeva, who knows better than anyone how to work a crowd, surfed the wave of goodwill.
With four athletes left, the bar went to 4.82 – beyond her best of the season. She cleared it on the second attempt, only for Olympic champion Suhr to follow her over to regain the lead on countback.
The bar was hoisted to 4.89 and, writing a script the organisers could only have dreamed of, Isinbayeva soared over at the first attempt.
Suhr and Silva could not match her, taking silver and bronze respectively, and the Russian tore off to climb into the crowd and hug her coach.
There came a joyous lap of honour, complete with cartwheels and backflips, and she was still talking to TV crews 90 minutes after her victory.
Russia’s Elena Lashmanova won the 20km walk but only just, after she stopped with a lap of the track to go thinking the race was over.
Ireland’s Laura Reynolds didn’t shy away from the major disappointment at finishing 31st – her time of 1:33:39 some ways down on her best.
“Thirty first place explains it all,” she said. “It wasn’t a good place and it wasn’t a good time. I don’t have an explanation for it. My last race in Kazan at world students I finished sixth, I was happy with finishing sixth. I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t recover, I just can’t explain why it went wrong. I’ll have to review this with my coach and see were to go.”