Yelena Isinbayeva clearly remembers the moment she began to ask herself the most basic and existential question of them all.
It was at a dinner following a Diamond League meet in Monaco and Isinbayeva was approached by an IAAF statistician who indulged her in conversation.
“The statistician told me that apart from Olympic gold medals that I had won, I had also managed to break the world record 28 times (30 now including her indoor records).
“At that point I began to ask myself, Why do this anymore? Why go on pole-vaulting? I have achieved everything that I had ever wanted to achieve.”
So the Russian took a year-long sabbatical to figure herself out. London 2012 seemed like it might not happen, but then she met her old coach, Yevgeny Trofimov, again.
“He said to me, ‘Yelena lets try again, lets try to go for gold once more.’”
And Isinbayeva listened. So despite a hole in her thigh that limited her preparation for the Games to just ten days, she decided to come to London to try to win gold in a sport she has made her own.
She failed, falling two short of her usual colour, but managed to capture a bronze medal. Isinbayeva was hardly disappointed though.
“I think you can say that I won this bronze, not lost a gold,” she said when asked how bronze tasted after so many golds.
“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 both physical and mental. I am just glad the Olympics are finished as it was so stressful.”
It did indeed look like Isinbayeva was glad. For a champion, she did not seem disappointed at not having made gold and she was in a cheerful mood throughout the press conference, which was the last of a long day and went on past midnight local time.
Isinbayeva admitted that she had come to London to win gold, but the injury and the conditions made it difficult.
“The conditions today were extremely difficult, the weather was not just bad, it was terrible, absolutely terrible for pole-vaulting,” she said. It was a fact with which both her other podium sharers agreed.
But if you thought that this was just a washed-up swansong from Isinbaeva, you would be mistaken. The Russian is already mulling her future, after declaring before the Games that this would be her last. Rio 2016 though was already on her mind.
“My decision changes everyday,” she said laughing. “One day, I think, Yelena, that’s it, no more, and then the next day I wake up and say, yes, I can go on till Rio,” she said.
One thing is for sure though. Isinbayeva intends to stick around till the World Championships at her home in Moscow in 2013.
“I hope Jennifer will be there,” she said, pointing to the American Jennifer Suhr who had just snared the gold medal from her.
“I can take revenge,” said Isinbayeva.
True champions never lose their thirst.
-With The Daily Star input