One Gold Medal All but Assured

For world and Olympic pole-vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva, winning gold in Beijing is not a dream but almost a formality.

The peerless Russian does not expect anything less after vaulting 5.03 meters at Rome's Golden Gala this month to set her 22nd world record.

She has been virtually unbeatable over the past four years, winning every major title on offer and drawing comparisons with Ukrainian vaulting great, Sergei Bubka.

The bubbly Isinbayeva, 26, has even dared to complain of a lack of strong competition in her event, saying it prevents her from realizing her full potential.

"It's tough to break records on your own. Just like in any other sport, you need serious rivals to push you to greater heights," she said in an interview last year. "I know if I do my best, it's impossible to beat me. There's no chance for anybody. Sorry," she told reporters at last year's world championships in Japan before going on to clinch her second consecutive title with ease.

Such has been her dominance that the former gymnast has often needed only three vaults in competition.

Emulating her idol Bubka, she tends to use her first vault to warm up, the second to clinch victory and the third to attempt a world record.

Isinbayeva became the first woman to break the five-meter barrier in July 2005, before vaulting 5.01 at the world championships in Helsinki the following month. She has stated her desire to surpass Bubka's tally of 35 world records.

The Russian was well on track to break his mark because she set most of her records in just two seasons, 2004 and 2005. But she has struggled to maintain her record-breaking pace after dumping her long-time coach, Yevgeny Trofimov, in favor of Bubka's former coach, Vitaly Petrov, at the end of 2005.

Isinbayeva said comments by some of her rivals, particularly American Jenn Stuczynski who has attempted five meters this season, have annoyed her.

"I was really angry to hear things like 'The Isinbayeva era is about to end. There's a new queen in women's pole vault on the horizon,'" she said after clearing 5.03 with some 10 centimeters to spare. "I just wanted to show everyone that I'm still the old Yelena. The one and only."

Isinbayeva defended her decision to leave her hometown of Volgograd for the glamour of Monaco.

"I'm no longer a shy provincial girl who didn't know how to handle myself in front of hordes of the foreign press and cameras. But I still have the same hunger for success that drives me to be the best I can be.

"As for breaking Bubka's record tally, I know I still have time," said Isinbayeva who wants to stay in the sport at least until the 2012 Olympics in London.