STUTTGART, Germany – Blanka Vlasic has cleared two meters (6-6 ¾ ) or better in 39 consecutive competitions, a streak she hopes to extend at Wednesday’s Europa SC High Jump meet in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia.
While that still-formidable barrier has become second nature to the 25-year-old Croatian, her impressive streak nearly came to an abrupt halt on Saturday in Stuttgart when she needed a third try at a relatively lowly 1.98m (6-6).
“No,” was her curt reply, she couldn’t recall the last time that was necessary. (An apology for her uncharacteristic terseness came just as quickly.)
Struggling with the hard surface at the Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle, she managed to regroup at two meters, before sailing over a world-leading 2.04m (6-8 ¼ ).
“I couldn’t find my technique,” she said. “I struggled with 1.98 and with two meters. I was surprised I jumped 2.04. If everything was ok, I could have gone even more.”
“I’m happy that even though the circumstances weren’t perfect, I jumped 2.04. That means that I’m ready, I just have to wait for my perfect day and my perfect competition.”
Her first 2009 stabs at Kajsa Bergqvist’s 2.08 world record followed, and she was pleased with two of her three efforts at 2.09m (6-10 ¼ ).
“I was also surprised how good I jumped on my first attempt. Considering how much I struggled during the competition, they were two great attempts. I’m glad that I jumped 2.09 because this is a very good exercise. Next time it will be much easier I’m sure.”
There will be plenty more opportunities this winter for Vlasic, the reigning world champion both indoors and outdoors, with five more competitions in her day planner over the next 25 days. After Banksa Bystrica, she’ll be in Karlsruhe, Germany (15-Feb), her hometown Split (21-Feb), and Prague (26-Feb) prior to capping her season at the European Indoor Championships in Turin. Her frequency of competition --she competed in 17 meets outdoors last year-- has attracted its critics, particularly when her only two losses last year, at the Olympic Games, where she took silver, and in the Golden League series finale, a defeat that cost her $500,000, came at the most inopportune times. But Vlasic will have none of it.
“It’s my job,” she says plainly. “That’s why I train. I enjoy competitions. I don’t train to jump only once in a big competition and then maybe two or three other times. I train for this.”
If she’s not sidelined from any other upcoming commitments as she was from last week’s meet in Gothenburg, she’ll make eight appearances this winter, a personal record for an indoor campaign. The more, the merrier, she says, particularly when she’s working towards the best shape of her life.
“I’m better than I was last year, I’ve prepared better. It will not be a problem for me. I expect to take a break after Karlsruhe --that will be four competitions in a short time-- and then will be fresh for my competition in Split. And I expect to jump well at home.”
A capacity crowd of more than 6,000 people packed Split’s Gripe (pron. Gri-peh) Arena last year, perhaps the largest attendance ever, anywhere, for a single-event competition. This year, the meeting will be held at the recently inaugurated Spaladium, built for last month’s world handball championships, with a capacity of 12,000. The potential for a crowd that size is extremely rare for indoor track meets anywhere. For a women’s high jump competition, it would be entirely unprecedented. But if anyone can attract that kind of crowd, it’s Vlasic in her sport-crazed hometown.
“I hope that me jumping well before then,” Vlasic says, “will bring lots of people.”
Indoor season highlight No. 2 is expected to come in Turin, where she will be looking to end her medal drought in four continental championship appearances, indoors and outdoors.
“I’ve never won a European medal,” she said. It’s important for my country. The experience of a big competition is always exciting to me. I’ll keep jumping as much as I can (this season) and I’ll be in great shape in Torino. So it’ll be another opportunity to jump high. Everything is experience. I feel much more experienced than last year.”
She admits to still being haunted, literally, by one of those experiences, her silver medal finish behind Belgian Tia Hellebaut in Beijing last August, which ended her win streak at an impressive 34.
“I had a dream that me and Tia were doing a pentathlon,” she said. “I lost in the high jump, and she said, ‘OK, now let’s go do the 200 meters’. And I said, ‘Well I’m not a very good sprinter...’”
“Yeah it was so close in Beijing,” she said, “but it just makes things more interesting. In a way, that competition helped me. It helped me very much.”