MOSCOW -- The clock said it was a couple minutes past 10 in the evening. All the action on the track was over. The only matter left to be decided was at the pole vault, and there was only one jumper left. Yelena Isinbayeva had all of Luzhniki Stadium to herself. Just the way she likes it.
The greatest female pole vaulter in history, the first-ever in history to clear five meters, won the third world title of her incredible career, the only one in Tuesday's field to clear 4.89 meters, or 16 feet and exactly one-half of an inch.
The world record is 5.07, or 16-7 1/2. Isinbayeva made three tries as the clock ticked past 10. None were really close. No matter. The crowd came to see the Pole Vault Diva, Isinbayeva. They were thrilled, roaring at her every attempt, at what -- for the first time -- felt like a real world championships here at Luzhniki.
"I am so happy the era of Isinbayeva is back again," she said at a news conference that stretched into early Wednesday. "It was never finished."
Perhaps this is the last of Isinbayeva's world titles. Or not. She says now she is going to take what she called a "small woman's break," intending to have a baby next year. She is due to be the honorary mayor of the athlete's village at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games and said she intends to be walking around -- she really said this -- like a "pregnant penguin" offering the world's skiers and skaters "the traditional bread and salt" like a good Russian host.
The world has never seen anyone quite like Yelena Isinbayeva. And the scene at the pole vault runway -- Isinbayeva's catwalk -- capped a fantastic night of track and field, one that saw the U.S. team win four medals: one gold, three silver.
LaShawn Merritt simply blew away all comers, including London 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James, to win the men's 400 meters, in 43.74 seconds, 2013's best time. Fellow American Tony McQuay took silver, in a personal-best 44.40.
Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic -- 19 years old -- finished third, in 44.52.
James? An improbable seventh, in 44.99.
On his way out, James told Universal Sports, "I just died. I don't know what happened."
For Merritt, the 2008 Olympic champion, this marked redemption, and in a big way. He has overcome injury and the embarrassment of a ban relating to the purchase of a male-enhancement product at a convenience store and weathered it all with dignity. McQuay was far from alone when he said at a late Tuesday news conference that he considered Merritt a "great role model."
Merritt said winning Tuesday was a "sweet moment." He also said, "I guess you could call it a comeback. But I don't feel like I ever left. I always continued to work hard and keep faith in my ability -- spiritually, physically and mentally. To come here … I was ready for it."
In the men's 800, Nick Symmonds took silver, in 1:43.55, the best-ever finish in the event by an American and the first medal for a U.S. man since Rich Kenah's bronze in 1997.
Ethiopia's Mohamed Aman won, in 1:43.31 -- the 2012 world indoor champ adding the 2013 outdoor title to his collection. He is just 19. Djibouti's Ayanleh Souleiman took third, in 1:43.76, the first medal for his country since Ahmed Salah won silver in the marathon at the Tokyo worlds in 1991. Souleiman is just 20.
Well before anyone even got to Moscow, the 800 was going to be a wide-open affair. Not one of the three medalists from the 2012 Olympics was here. Gold medalist David Rudisha of Kenya, who set a world-record 1:40.91 in London, was hurt. So was silver medalist Nijel Amos of Botswana. Timothy Kitum didn't make the team Kenya sent to Moscow.
No one in the world had run under 1:43 this year.
In the heats and semifinals, astonishingly, all the Kenyans were eliminated. That meant that -- for the first time in the 30-year history of the world championships -- the men's 800 final would be Kenyan-free.
Symmonds had finished fifth in London; fifth at the worlds in Daegu in 2011; sixth at the Berlin worlds in 2009. He is 29. He had blogged before coming here about how significant it would mean to him personally and professionally to leave Moscow with what he called a "shiny medal" around his neck.
Coming down the stretch, it looked like it might be gold. But with about 20 meters to go, Aman proved just too strong.
"Nothing is impossible," Aman said. "You have to believe in yourself and train."
Echoed Symmonds, "To be a medalist takes a lot of hard work, it takes a lot of luck as well. A lot of experience. At the age of 29 ... it feels like all the hard work and the sacrifice has paid off."
All of that set the stage for the pole-vault drama.
There are three superb female pole-vaulters right now in the world. The American Jenn Suhr won Olympic gold, the Cuban Yarisley Silva silver in London. And then, of course, there is Isinbayeva -- the 2004 and 2008 Olympic champion who won bronze in London.
Isinbayeva is also the 2005 and 2007 world champion. But in Berlin in 2009, she no-heighted. In Daegu in 2011, she took sixth.
Last year in London, she was back to her old ways -- with that third. But for her, third is not -- well, first. And, as she acknowledged after the jumps were all over Tuesday, referring to the last few years, "Sometimes I was desperate … sometimes I thought I should quit."
When all three cleared 4.82, or 15-9 3/4, it marked the first time since 2007 that three women had cleared that height in the same competition. This was, in every way, world-class stuff.
Plus, the crowd was totally into it. The runway and pit were set up in what, in an American stadium, would be a football end zone. The stadium was not filled -- not quite -- but attendance was, because of Isinbayeva, eminently decent. Plus, because of Luzhniki's overhanging roof, the crowd noise was loud, indeed.
Isinbayeva would later say it was the best crowd support she had received. Ever.
"Yes," she said, through a translator in Russian, "that was the best-ever. It was my home crowd. I felt like I was at home. What can you say? Being at home helps you. If we had the Olympics in Moscow [instead of London], the results would be different.
"I've gotten support in other countries. But tonight I knew. Tonight, everyone was behind me. I felt all my emotions. I absorbed it. The support was just colossal."
To have the stadium all to herself? She smiled. In English, she said that was "nice feelings."
Suhr held the lead until she missed her first try at 4.89. Then the pressure was on.
Game over, pretty much -- though the other two women tried to clear, it was not their night.
Suhr took silver, Silva bronze.
Suhr called it a "great competition," adding, "If I was a spectator, that's exactly what I would want to see."
She also said, "When I think of where pole vaulting was and where it is now, you have to thank Yelena for getting us there. making the spotlight, making it one of the premier events to watch. Look at today. Every event was over but everyone stayed to watch it. We have to thank her for really paving the road for that."
People, the era of Isinbayeva is back again. For emphasis, it was never finished.