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Blanka Vlašić

Blanka VlašićBlanka VlašićBlanka VlašićBlanka VlašićBlanka Vlašić

Blanka Vlašić, born 8 November 1983 in Split, Croatia is an athlete who specialises in the high jump. She is the Croatian record holder in the event, and the former indoor World Champion. The daughter of Croatian decathlon record holder Joško Vlašić, she was a talented junior athlete and attended her first Olympic Games in 2000 Sydney at the age of sixteen. She won the World Junior Championships in Athletics in both 2000 and 2002. Vlašić broke her national record in 2004 and also won her first world senior medal at the World Indoor Championships that year. A hyperthyroid condition hindered her second Olympic appearance in Athens and she spent the 2005 season recuperating from surgery.

She returned in 2006, taking the silver at the World Indoor Championships. The 2007 season signalled a strong run of form: she won at the 2007 World Championships, became the indoor world champion in 2008 and her winning streak came to an end with a narrow loss at the Beijing Olympics, where she took silver. She became World Champion for a second time in 2009. She ranks second in the all-time high jump rankings, behind Stefka Kostadinova. Her awards also including the IAAF World Athlete of the Year 2010 and European Athlete of the Year Trophy for 2007 and 2010.

From a young age, it was natural for Blanka to be involved in sports: her mother Venera was a seasoned amateur in basketball and cross country skiing while her father, Joško Vlašić, was an international athlete who broke the Croatian record in the decathlon. Her father brought her to the track while he practised and she dreamed of becoming a professional sprinter. As she grew up she tried a number of sports but found that the high jump was particularly well-suited to her tall and slender frame. Vlašić shunned the idea of competing in more profitable sports, such as basketball, saying that she preferred the thrill of individual sports. She reached the international standard for a high jumper at an early age, setting a personal best of 1.80 meters at fifteen years of age and quickly improving to 1.93 meters at sixteen. Vlašić quickly became Croatia's top female high jump athlete.

Accordingly, she had an early start in international competition: she competed at the inaugural World Youth Championships, finishing eighth, and represented her country for the first time at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Although the Olympics showed that she was not ready to compete at the senior level, she proved herself to be more than proficient at the junior level by winning the 2000 World Junior Championships with a jump of 1.91 meters. She was a regular competitor at senior athletics meetings and was steadily improving, qualifying for further top-level senior events. Vlašić finished sixth at the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton with a mark of 1.94 meters, a result which led the IAAF's Ed Gordon to mark her out as a future star in the event. She rounded off the year by winning her first senior gold medal at an international tournament, taking first place at the 2001 Mediterranean Games.

The results of Vlašić's final year as a junior showed further development as a high jumper. She set a new indoor best of 1.92 m at the 2002 European Indoor Championships and was the favourite to win the 2002 World Juniors.She won the competition by a margin of nine centimetres, setting a new personal best of 1.96 m and attempting the symbolic two metres height. She failed to pass the bar but remained pleased with her achievements: "This was the first time I tried the 2-meter mark. That would have been a bonus. Today what matters is the gold. I am very happy I retained my world junior title". At the final major event of the season, the European Championships, she could not repeat her previous form and finished in fifth place. Nevertheless, at the end of the year she was ranked in the top ten high jumpers in the world for the season.

The start to the 2003 athletics season was promising – she set a new personal best in Linz with a jump of 1.98 meters and finished fourth at the World Indoor Championships ten days later, her highest finish in a major world tournament. June and July yielded further progress, jumping 1.98 meters again and improving to 1.99 meters to win her first IAAF Golden League event at the Gaz de France. Days later, she jumped the two meter height for the first time on home soil at the IAAF Grand Prix Zagreb. Although Hestrie Cloete won the competition overall, Vlašić's defeat of the psychological barrier and improved personal best was the highlight of the meeting and Cloete praised the young athlete's performance. Vlašić took gold at the 2003 European Athletics Under-23 Championships, and then she improved her best by another centimeter at the Zürich Grand Prix which qualified her for the World Championships and the first IAAF World Athletics Final. Despite such previous highs, her season ended on a low note as she failed to win a medal at either the World Championships - finishing seventh with 1.95 meters or the Athletics Final in Paris - ending up fourth with 1.96 meters.

Although she had failed to reach the podium at the major championships, only three athletes managed to jump higher than her personal and season's best of 2.01 meters in 2003. Vlasic started the season well with a bronze medal performance at the 2004 IAAF World Indoor Championships in March. She regularly reached the podium at meetings in the outdoor season and won the 2004 national championships. A Croatian record breaking jump of 2.03 meters in Ljubljana put her in good stead for the 2004 Athens Olympics. However, when she competed at the Olympic high jump final she only managed eleventh place with a jump of 1.89 meters. Following this, Vlašić did not compete for almost a year: she admitted that she was feeling lethargic and shortly afterwards she was diagnosed with a hyperthyroid condition. Surgery and recovery ruled out the vast majority of the 2005 athletics season and she only managed to make two competitive appearances.

A best of 1.95 meters guaranteed her victory at the national championships, but her jump of 1.88 meters was not enough to progress into the finals of the 2005 World Championships. Although her poor health had spoiled her medal chances at the two major championships of 2004 and 2005, Vlašić came back fully recovered and stronger in the 2006 season. She raised her indoor best to 2.05 meters, a national record, at a meet in Banská Bystrica in February, and took silver at the 2006 IAAF World Indoor Championships. Although she was beaten to the gold medal by Yelena Slesarenko, she remained positive:

"Of course I wanted to win. But when I remember that I was in hospital one year ago it is great."

The 2006 European Athletics Championships in Gothenburg proved to be a bittersweet experience: she cleared 2.01 meters to finish in fourth place, behind Tia Hellebaut, Venelina Veneva and Kajsa Bergqvist. This was the best-ever non-medal winning jump, and bronze medallist Bergqvist had also finished with 2.01 meters but had managed it in fewer attempts. Vlašić capped the season off with an appearance at the 2006 World Athletics Final but withdrew from the competition after her third jump, finishing sixth. Although she recorded an indoor season's best of 2.01 meters in February, she failed to repeat her previous season's indoor form and finished fifth at the 2007 European Athletics Indoor Championships - later upgraded to fourth after Venelina Veneva tested positive for banned substances.

During the 2007 season, Vlašić jumped over two meters in seventeen of her nineteen outdoor competitions, along with several close attempts at a would-be world record of 2.10 meters. Vlašić also won eighteen out of nineteen outdoor competitions, with her only loss coming early in the season at the first Golden League meeting in Oslo. As the women's high jump was a jackpot event this year, had Vlašić won here, she would have won (along with Russian Pole Vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva and American sprinter Sanya Richards) a share of the Golden League jackpot of $1,000,000. Vlašić's consistency over two meters, and consistency at the first attempt this season, put her as a firm favourite to challenge for honours at August's World Championships and she proved the expectations had been right. She became a world champion with a jump of 2.05 meters.

In early October, Vlašić was named female European Athlete of the Year by the European Athletic Association after the combined votes of a panel of experts, a group of journalists and the public. She is the first Croatian athlete and the first high jumper to win this award. At the 2008 Summer Olympics, held in Beijing, Vlašić won the silver medal, beaten by the Belgian Tia Hellebaut (both cleared 2.05 m, but Vlašić needed one more attempt than Hellebaut). This ended her recent unbeaten streak of 34 competitions. Vlašić's season ended in despair, as she was again beaten on countback in the final leg of the ÅF Golden League series, which ended her chances of winning the $1,000,000 jackpot. Having won the previous 5 Golden League events, she finished Memorial Van Damme meeting in 2nd place to Ariane Friedrich.

August 2009 was a month of highlights for Vlašić as she won gold at the World Championships in Berlin, then set a new personal best at Zagreb. On 20 August, she won her second World Championship high jump crown, clearing 2.04 meters on her second attempt to win gold. Her personal best came 31 August at a meet at Zagreb, Croatia, her home country. She cleared 2.05 meters on her first attempt, thus setting a meet record, then attempted and cleared 2.08 meters setting a new personal best and tying the second-best performance of all-time in the event. Her three attempts to set a new world record at 2.10 meters failed. Despite missing some meetings due to a virus in early 2010, further improvements came when she cleared 2.06 meters indoors in Arnstadt in February. The victory at the Hochsprung mit Musik meeting brought her to third on the all-time indoor lists. Blanka also won the silver medal in 2011 athletics championships from South Korea. There will be no 2011 indoor season for her. Appearances will be kept to a minimum as she pursues higher education.

“After many years I figured I will need my diploma years after I end my career if I want to stay in the sport,” she explains. “It’s important to have this paper, it’s more legitimate. When I do well on my exams it’s a different feeling of achievement. The people I have met, new friendships, I am enjoying it very much. It was very hard at first but I got used to it. My days go from morning to evening. Even though I am tired, I know I am doing something for my future besides sports.”

Inside her home the two-time IAAF World High Jump champion keeps her many awards including the recently acquired 2010 World Athlete of the Year trophy.

“The Athlete of the Year Award means a lot because it’s a very competitive sport - the whole world is doing athletics, and there are strong girls on the circuit. To be the best is a big honour,” says the 27-year-old. “And I am able to dedicate it to my father Josko as the person who is the most responsible for my success. I remember when I was a little girl and starting out in the sport - all the awards seemed miles away; a dream. When this dream came true it was incredible.”

Blanka Vlašić will be 29 when the London Olympics begin. While many athletes don’t see a future beyond London the Croatian superstar has no plans to retire. As long as the motivation is there she will compete. And, when the day comes where her ambition is satiated she will have a sports management degree to fall back on.

More of Blanka Vlašić at: www.blanka-vlasic.hr

source: www.wikipedia.org


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