Yelena Isinbayeva was humbled this time.
Over the years, the Russian pole vaulter had won so much and set so many records that she said she lost the value of success. Then came a long slump, and now she has fresh appreciation for what it means to win a competition even without a world record.
"The main problem was that, for me, victory was like nothing special at all," Isinbayeva said after winning the gold medal Sunday at the world indoor championships with just two jumps. "To set a world record: 'Ah, it's easy.' No, it's not. It's really difficult."
The Russian set a world record of 16 feet, 5 1/4 inches last month and failed to improve that after clinching gold. It was Isinbayeva's fourth indoor world title but her first in four years. During the drought, she also lost her world outdoor title.
"I was waiting for this victory like a mother is waiting to give birth to her baby," Isinbayeva said. "The last three years showed me how important it is for me to win."
She won the title at the Atakoy Arena with a height of 15-9, which she cleared with the ease she has so often shown during her career.
While others struggled, she covered herself in towels and waited.
"I am not really surprised that I only needed two attempts, two jumps to win," Isinbayeva said after winning Russia's only gold of the championships.
She now goes for the defense of the most precious medal of all - the Olympic gold. She will be seeking her third straight title in London, an unprecedented feat. No woman in track and field has managed to win three individual Olympic golds in three successive games.
"Before, I considered that every victory means nothing for me without the world record," the 29-year-old Isinbayeva said.
Now she knows that attitude is wrong.
"It was a very important victory for me," she said of winning gold in Istanbul. "I had a lot of difficult years in the past and I'm so happy that I recovered from everything and I'm again on the top."
Isinbayeva attributes her return to form to Yevgeny Trofimov, her old coach. She said the slump was brought on by the pressure of too much success.
She also finds fulfillment away from competition, giving aid to a Russian orphanage.
"They look at me like a fairy tale," she said. "I just love kids and I want to make them happy."