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Athletics - 04. October 2008.

Yelena Isinbayeva (RUS) is the female Waterford Crystal European Athlete of the Year 2008

The 26-year-old Russian superstar was a clear winner of the internet poll in which  European Athletics' Member Federations, the general public and media could all vote.

Her unbeaten outdoor season included three world records, topped by the 5.05m clearance which won her the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Beijing.

photos European Athletics

Yelena Isinbayeva (RUS) is the female Waterford Crystal European Athlete of the Year 2008

"I wanted to win at the Olympics but I don't think I would have been truly happy if I hadn't set a world record. After all, that's what I did when I won my first Olympic title in Athens four years ago," said Isinbayeva.

"I was motivated to do well this year because at the end of last year, and the start of this summer, some people were saying that I couldn't improve any more and that my days at the top were coming to an end. That made me a little angry," admitted Isinbayeva.

This year is the second occasion that Isinbayeva has received European Athletics' top honour.

She also won in 2005 but it is a mark of her consistency at the very highest level, and the public affection for her, that she has not been outside the top three of the voting for the Waterford Crystal European Athlete of the Year in the last five years.

In addition to her outdoor triumphs, with 10 consecutive victories in 2008, she also set a world indoor record of 4.95m in January and went on to win the World Indoor title in the Spanish city of Valencia in March.

Isinbayeva has now not been beaten at a global or continental championship since she finished third at the 2003 World Championships.

Despite the fact that Isinbayeva continued her domination of her event, she has confessed it was a far from simple task to take her second consecutive Olympic gold medal. She acknowledged that celebrity and stardom in the sporting world comes with an emotional price tag.

"The problem for me in Beijing was psychological as I knew physically that I was in the best shape I've ever been in. In Athens, I was the favourite but not in the same way I was at this year's Olympics.  This time there was pressure, from everywhere.

"No one thought I could lose but it's never that easy. On the outside, I was doing my best to stay calm but inside I was trembling.  In the Olympic village I tried to hide, and just stayed in my room most of the time, thinking about the day of the competition.

"But everyone knows me while I knew that I needed to concentrate and focus on the competition. I put on sunglasses and a hat to try to disguise myself when I went to the dining room but at the same time I couldn't walk the other way if someone came up to me to talk, that would be ridiculous," she joked.

Her Olympic gold medals in Athens and Beijing now mean that one of her lifelong ambitions has been fulfilled, although at the London Olympics in 2012 she has hopes to become the first woman to win the same individual event at three consecutive Games.

"I've been dreaming about being an Olympic Champion since I was five years old, although my sport was then gymnastics," reflected Isinbayeva.

However, she still has another target in her sights, one established by her friend and mentor, the Ukrainian Pole Vault legend Sergey Bubka. "My goal is to beat the 35 world records that Sergey set."

After this year's exploits, she has now 24 world records - indoors and out - to her name and the tally should continue to rise in the coming years as her soaring clearances when the bar has been set above 5.00m this summer have shown there is little sign of her reaching her limit.

Yelena Isinbayeva will be presented her award at the European Athletics Awards Dinner in Amsterdam on Saturday 18 Oct.
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