MOSCOW, August 13 (R-Sport) – Was this "do svidaniya"? It certainly felt like it.
Blowing kisses to the crowd from blackened, greasy hands, Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva embarked upon a well-earned lap of honor. What she had just achieved, comeback or no, she will surely never top.
The last of her 28 world pole vault records a fading, four-year-old memory, the out-of-form, aging and under-pressure Isinbayeva had just won the world championship gold medal on home soil in Moscow in front of 50,000 adoring fans.
"It's time for a time-out," Isinbayeva, 31 years old and still panting, told Russian state television after taking her third world title. "But I want to try to come back for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics," she said, apparently in all seriousness.
This in itself was already an improbable comeback: Isinbayeva had quit in 2010 after a series of poor performances only to return after rejoining her childhood coach, Evgeny Trofimov.
Now her goal is to eclipse that with a third Olympic gold in Rio at the age of 34 – all after starting a family.
For the time being, though, Isinbayeva – not unfairly monikered "Russia's Lara Croft" with her breathtaking physical feats and dark plaids to match - is reveling in the moment, excited in the knowledge that the competition she had just smoked were at the top of their game.
Isinbayeva smashed her season's best by 11 centimeters with a winning jump of 4.89 meters that elicited a deafening roar from a packed arena, leaving Olympic champion Jennifer Suhr with the silver after the American's best effort of 4.82.
Cuba's Yarisley Silva, who finished runner-up to Suhr in London last year, had to settle for the bronze on countback after clearing the same height but only on the third attempt.
The last major outdoor title won by Isinbayeva was her second Olympic gold at the 2008 Beijing Games. Her last world titles came in Helsinki in 2005 and Osaka in 2007.
Silva's third failure at 4.89 prompted an ecstatic Isinbayeva to thrust her arms skyward and make a beeline for her coach in the stands as the 50,000-strong crowd went wild, the first time the arena had truly exploded all week – including Sunday's 100-meter final won by Usain Bolt.
She hugged Trofimov, who introduced her to pole vaulting when she was rejected as a gymnast at 15 years of age.
As a token present to the crowd, Isinbayeva stripped off her tracksuit one more time to attempt a 29th record at 5.07, one centimeter over the mark she set in Zurich in 2009, but never came close.
It didn't dampen the mood, though. Russian tricolor in tow, Isinbayeva cart wheeled down the back straight with the carefree bounce of a schoolgirl, screaming "Rossiya! Rossiya!" at the top of her voice. These weren't the celebrations of a burnt-out, jaded veteran but of a peaking athlete hungry for more.