By Justin Palmer
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Like all things aerodynamic, Yelena Isinbayeva was born to fly through the air with the greatest of ease.
The pole-vaulter extraordinaire has been blessed with the supple body-bending skills of a gymnast, the flexibility of an acrobat and the ability to soar to heights never attained before by a woman in a sport she has redefined.
At 31, with talk of retirement and questions hanging over her ability to rekindle memories of former glories - the two Olympic titles, the show-stopping world records - she delivered a third world title in front of an ecstatic home crowd on Tuesday.
The Volgograd-born pole vault queen knows how to please a crowd. Withdrawing herself into her own bubble, blocking out the world before a competition, Isinbayeva comes alive with 20 meters of runway ahead, a long pole in her hand and a bar set high into the night sky.
Graceful, supple and powerful, her sporting prowess was honed in her childhood years when she trained as an artistic gymnast from the age of five to 15 before being considered too tall and taking up pole vaulting.
That she was cut out to shine in track and field was shown at the 1998 World Youth Games.
Aptly, this took place in Moscow where a 4 meter leap to secure victory was a portent of things to come. Two years later in 2000, the year that the women's pole vault became an Olympic event at the Sydney Games, she won the world junior championships.
Under the guidance of mentor and coach Yevgeny Trofimov, with whom she split with in 2005 before returning to in 2011, Isinbayeva flourished.
Dubbed 'Sergei Bubka in a skirt' by Russian media because of her domination and habit of increasing the world record a centimeter at a time, Isinbayeva gained considerable financial reward from each new mark.
Ukrainian Bubka regularly broke the men's record between 1984 and 1994 and his outdoor mark of 6.14 meters and indoor one of 6.15 still stand.
American Stacy Dragila set the benchmark before her with 10 world records between 1999 and 2001 but Isinbayeva has broken new ground, setting 15 outdoor world records and 13 indoors.
Her rivalry with compatriot Svetlana Feofanova helped spur her on. Feofanova twice took the world record in 2004, only to be usurped again by Isinbayeva each time within a month.
She set her first world record in 2003, clearing 4.82m in Gateshead. Her five-meter feat came in 2005 and her clearance of 5.06 in Zurich in 2009 stands as the world record.
In her golden period, Isinbayeva won world title in 2005 and 2007, and Olympic gold in 2004 and 2008.
Although her powers waned in major championships finals after that Beijing success, her status as a superstar in her homeland never diminished, even after an 11-month break before returning to the sport in 2011.
Now she has set new goals - to become a mother and then bow out in another blaze of glory at the 2016 Olympics.
The white-haired and moustachioed Trofimov, it seems, will count down the minutes until her return.
"There is this Italian Composer Francesco Sartori, he composed a wonderful piece - Time To Say Goodbye. But the time to say farewell has not yet come," he told Itar-Tass.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Grove; Editing by Ed Osmond)