The Observer

Isinbayeva Stands Between Jenn and Gold

Jenn Stuczynski mania seems to be at an all-time peak in Chautauqua County with good reason.

Stuczynski's run - make that leap - for gold at the Beijing Olympics may be one of the greatest events to happen to Fredonia since the current village was surveyed by the Holland Land Company in 1798.

Stuczynski mania isn't just confined to Chautauqua County. Since Stuczynski qualified for the Olympics, she has received 20 to 25 media requests a day leading up to the big event.

However, the No. 1 pole vaulter in the world, Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva, is looking to defend her gold medal she won in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece when she broke the world record with a jump of 16-feet-1 1/4 inches.

Fast forward four years later to today, Isinbayeva still holds the world record and has broken her own record eight times.

"With Yelena, I think you're talking about an athlete that is as dominant in any sport in modern day," Stuczynski's coach Rick Suhr said.

"Tiger Woods is to golf as Yelena is to pole vaulting. The difference is Tiger loses once in a while. With Isinbayeva, there are two exceptions. She hasn't lost a meet since 2003. She has been unbeaten. I think there have been unimportant meets she didn't jump well in but in the major events, she has not lost. I don't know anyone as dominant as her. She is the closest thing to unbeatable as there is in sports. It's almost scary how dominant she is."

While the rest of the world may be scared of Isinbayeva, Isinbayeva may be scared of one person - Jenn Stuczynski.

"If (Isinbayeva) is on, no one in the world can beat her except one person and that is Jenn," Suhr continued. "Even if Yelena has a good day, Jenn can beat her. Jenn is the only one capable of doing that. ... Jenn is the greatest natural talent to ever do this event."

When dissecting both careers, Isinbayeva began her pole vaulting career in November 1997 when she was 15 years old. On the flip side, the world's No. 2 pole vaulter Stuczynski began her career in 2004 when she was 22 years old.

According to Suhr, it takes nine years to train a pole vaulter to become a world class athlete in that event. Stuczynski has accomplished that feat in four years.

"I would say it's a hard thing to compare," he said. "I can't come up with a decent comparison. Four years ago she was on a golf course somewhere. Now she is No. 2 in the world. It's pretty crazy. It's a hard thing to compare. It's something you don't see. I can't find a comparison."

Those extra seven years Isinbayeva has over Stuczynski seems to be beneficial to the Russian.

Isinbayeva was elected Female Athlete of the Year by the IAAF twice (2004 and 2005), and Sportswoman of the Year by Laureus. She has already been an eight-time major champion (Olympic, World outdoor and indoor champion and European outdoor and indoor champion). She holds 23 world records, according to Wikipedia.

With such an intimidating resume, how does Suhr motivate Chautauqua County's Olympian?

"I am a critical coach and upfront," Suhr continued. "I am very direct. Isinbayeva is as close to unbeatable as you can get. Jenn has enough confidence to get in a tussle with her. Jenn has jumped very high in practice - much higher than she has in meets. Yelena's jumps are mind boggling and intimidating. But not to us. Jenn has jumped heights Isinbayeva has in practice. We know Yelena has the potential to jump very high. She isn't intimidating. Isinbayeva has a mental edge. But Jenn has a different character. We rise to the challenge. We just are not intimidated by her at all. As good as Yelena is, we know in some aspect of pole vaulting, Jenn is better than her."

Stuczynski sent the message she is not intimidated by Isinbayeva two weeks ago at a meet in Europe.

After the two battled back and forth, the two best pole vaulters in the world attempted a world record. It was the first time since 2000 that two women attempted a world record jump.

"That woke (Yelena) up and told her we aren't intimidated," Suhr said. "We didn't see anything that surprised us. The thing people lack to realize is the difficulty of going to Europe and competing with Europeans. It took us 24 hours to get there and Yelena was one hour away. We had jet lag. It is very difficult for an American pole vaulter to do that. It shows the difficulty in traveling to compete. If she had to travel here, it would be a much different story. Beijing is neutral ground. There will be adjustments on both sides. Jenn was second and wasn't second by much. The Russian knows Jenn is the only one that can jump with her."

Despite the end results of the Olympics, it is incredible to think what Chautauqua County's own has done in just four years.

"I am very proud of her," Suhr said. "One thing we don't do too much is we don't sit down and say what have we accomplished. If she stopped tomorrow she has already stamped her mark on American Track and Field. If I think too much about it, it's overwhelming. Everything she has done and accomplished in a four-year period is amazing. To be able to say, 'I have the American Record' is just incredible. And doing it four different times and won U.S. championships five different times is mind boggling. The fact she has won five U.S. titles in pole vaulting in four years is incredible. Proud is an understatement. Sometimes I will talk to a friend and say it does not make sense for someone to be that good and that efficient."

With 1,500 signs being sold and displayed throughout the area, Suhr and Stuczynski are amazed by the support from the hometown community.

"They have done a great job in that town of supporting her," Suhr said. "We are excited to see the support. It's a storybook thing. I just hope we can go another two weeks and end this thing with a medal. This will be one of the greatest stories to come out of Western New York. Jenn is a great, sincere person. It would be great for the community and Western New York as a whole."

In last week's edition of The OBSERVER, Stuczynski's mother Sue said, "I think she has got a lot more to go," Mrs. Stuczynski said. "I think she is capable of the world record."

Suhr offered his own prediction.

"I feel 16-5 will not be Jenn's best jump ever. The question is when?"

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