RIO DE JANEIRO – Russian pole vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva announced her retirement on Friday and claimed “God will judge” track and field’s governing body for denying her the chance to compete at the Rio Games.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Isinbayeva, who was elected to the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) athlete’s commission on Thursday, was hoping to reclaim the pole vault title she won in 2004 and 2008 this week in Rio.
But the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) decision to ban Russia’s entire track and field team from the Rio Olympics in the face of evidence of massive systematic doping — less than two months before the games began — meant Isinbayeva was forced to miss Friday’s final.
Isinbayeva has been a vocal critic of the IAAF’s decision to ban her and over 100 of her Russian teammates from competing, and the three-time world champion and current world-record holder again took aim at president Sebastian Coe as she brought the curtain down on her career.
“Today in Rio on Aug. 19, 2016, Yelena Isinbayeva is finishing her professional career, this is my statement,” said the 34-year-old, who has never failed a doping test. “I thought it would be very sad for me, but yesterday’s election inspired me. It means I don’t say goodbye to sport. I am saying goodbye to my sport, but I am very happy that I fulfilled my dreams.
“I said I would never forgive anyone for banning me in such an unjust way, but now I have changed my mind. I am no judge. I am certainly not God. If the president of the IAAF believes that they did an honest thing, let God be their judge. It will be something that lies heavily on their conscience. Today I feel much lighter.”
Isinbayeva also cast a withering eye over the field for Friday’s women’s pole vault competition.
The current world-record holder with a mark of 506 cm, who cleared 490 cm on June 2 in her first competitive appearance in three years after giving birth to a daughter, argued that the entire Rio Games athletics competition has been rendered meaningless by Russia’s absence.
“I talked with my coach about going for 510 (cm) because I didn’t have any doubts that we could compete at that level,” said Isinbayeva. “But today, when they jump without me, do you think it’s honest? I don’t blame them for taking the gold medal, but globally when you compete without me this is not going to be a fully fledged gold medal.
“Of course I will congratulate the winner, but I’m sure she will not feel it’s a real gold because she didn’t beat Isinbayeva.”
On Thursday, Isinbayeva was elected to the IOC’s athlete’s commission, which looks after competitors’ interests and acts as a link between athletes and Olympic organizers, with 1,365 votes from her peers. She will serve an eight-year term.
Isinbayeva claimed that only one member of the IAAF’s executive had congratulated her on her victory, but considered herself vindicated by the support of her fellow athletes.
“I think it is an enormous victory,” said Isinbayeva, who refused to say whether she had been congratulated by Russian President Vladimir Putin. “It was was not politicians or officials but the athletes. Athletes showed to the rest of the world what Yelena Isinbayeva means, and I promise to defend the rights of clean athletes around the world, not just in Russia.
“It speaks volumes about the IAAF that no one congratulated me. I am a bit offended. We are fighting for the same team.”
Isinbayeva will now consider an offer to take over as head of the Russian Athletics Federation, and insists she will remain free of political interference if she takes on the role.
“I think I will be able to bring our federation back into the international fold,” said Isinbayeva, who has spoken out in support of Putin on a variety of issues. “I find it interesting but before I say yes I have to think long and hard about it.
“I simply do not let anyone impose any opinions on me. If I think a certain leader does the wrong thing, I will say so. I would like athletes to listen to themselves. I’d like them to use their experience, not to foster some war but to develop sport around the world.”
Isinbayeva also poured scorn on the findings of the World Anti-Doping Agency investigation that uncovered evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia and led to the team’s ban from Rio.
“All of the accusation have been built upon assumptions,” said Isinbayeva. “There is no proof. His accusations were almost enough to get the whole Russian team banned. I would like to see more specific proof.
“We shouldn’t have a blanket approach. I can’t say anything positive about this report. It is far from complete. “