LONDON: So, there was an explanation for Yelena Isinbayeva's mysterious preparations for the London Games, where she had high hopes of becoming the first woman to win the same individual track and field event at three consecutive Olympics.
A left-thigh injury in May, which her coach put down to over-training on tired muscles, stopped her from competing and prevented her training until about 10 days before the London Games.
After finishing with a bronze behind American Jenn Suhr in “terrible, terrible” windy conditions on Monday night, she's now considering another shot at the Olympics instead of retirement.
“Of course my plan was to win a gold medal here in London and then retire, but I don't want to retire from bronze medal,” she said.
“Maybe now I'll think about Rio. Maybe I can get my gold medal there, and then retire.”
“My decision is changing every day,” she said.
That's reasonable, given all she went through before London.
A muscle tear meant “I was not able to run, jump for 2 months, so I could not make any competition before London,” she said. Her only two competitive meets were “not enough.”
“I recovered from that injury but after that there was no time to prepare for London. I had only 10 days,” she said.
“It is impossible to change something in 10 days.”
Isinbayeva has been one of the most dominant athletes in track and field, breaking world records and winning Olympic titles and world championships indoors and out.
The 30-year-old Russian was relying on experience, rather than fitness to get her another gold medal in London. The gusting breeze made it tricky, as it did for everyone, and she never got into rhythm.
She waited until late to come into the competition and her opening miss kept her on the defensive throughout the final.
Instead Suhr, the silver medalist at Beijing, stayed perfect until her winning height of 4.75 meters and eventually won on a countback from Yarisley Silva, who set a Cuban record. Isinbayeva's best mark of 4.70 - 36 centimeters short of her world record - was only good enough for bronze.
After all her success, the obvious question came about how she savored defeat.
“Very tasteful. Honestly, the bronze medal is like a gold,” she said.
“In the past years since Beijing to London it was so difficult life for me. A lot of difficulties to overcome, physical and mental.
“I am just glad the Olympics are finished as it was so stressful.”
Isinbayeva had a career crisis after Beijing, questioning her desire to continue competing when she'd achieved just about everything she could. She surrendered her titles one by one.
She returned from an 11-month break from the sport in February last year after a reunion with her original coach, Yevgeny Trofimov.
In her time out, she helped the successful Russian bid for the rights to host the 2018 football World Cup and just gave her tired body time to rest.
The R&R helped, as she regained the world indoor title at Istanbul this year and naturally came into London as a favorite.
Even Suhr is still in awe of the Russian veteran.
“When Yelena is in the field you know the bar is risen, literally and figuratively,” she said.
“She's that great of a competitor. You know you have to be on your game.
“I knew anything is possible when she's in there. I think when I look at it, it's an honor to be on top. There's just a lot of respect there.”
Isinbayeva, who was sitting beside Suhr, accepted the compliment, with a smile and a polite, “thank you.”
That got her thinking again about competition, and extending her career at least until the world championships next year in Moscow.
“I hope Jennifer will be there,” she said, mulling her future publicly. “I can take revenge.”