May 14, 2008 / 12:30 AM / 10 years ago

Vlasic aims high at every athletics meeting

ZURICH (Reuters) - Never mind the Olympics, Blanka Vlasic wants to put on a world-beating performance every time she approaches the high jump bar.

<p>Blanka Vlasic from Croatia clears the bar to win the women's high jump event at the Qatar Super Grand Prix in Doha in this May 9, 2008 file photo. The Croatian world champion, who had the year's best jump of 2.03 metres last Friday, has one of athletics' oldest world records in her sights at every meeting she competes in. REUTERS/Mohammad Youssef</p>

The Croatian world champion, who had the year’s best jump of 2.03 meters last Friday, has one of athletics’ oldest world records in her sights at every meeting she competes in.

While many athletes have spent months fine-tuning their training and competition schedules to hit peak condition at the Beijing Games in August, Vlasic and her father-coach Josko, a former decathlete, prefer to maintain the same top level of performance throughout the entire season.

“We always want to jump at a lot of meetings and jump high at each one of them,” Vlasic told Reuters in Zurich ahead of her first outdoor meeting of the season in Doha.

”I think it’s important to be all the time on the circuit to maintain a certain level of results unless there are some special reasons to ease up.

“It’s been a winning formula for us so far so I don’t see any reason to change it just because it’s an Olympic year.”

Barely known outside her homeland before last year, the 1.93-metre tall Vlasic put in some suitably lofty performances in 2007, winning 18 of the 19 outdoor events she competed in.

WORLD RECORD

With 17 of those victories involving jumps of more than two meters, including a personal best of 2.07 meters, Vlasic knows she is getting ever closer to the world record of 2.09 set by Bulgaria’s Stefka Kostadinova 21 years ago.

Vlasic had three good attempts at 2.10 in Doha but settled for 2.03, easily beating Russian Anna Chicherova who cleared 1.96.

She knows she may have to produce a world record to win gold in Beijing.

”I‘m very much aware that somebody can come out and beat me no matter how big a favorite I am at the Olympics. I expect all the other girls to be fighting harder because it’s the Olympics and for there to be lots of jumps above 2.05.

“So I will be preparing by concentrating on the worst possible scenario -- needing to jump 2.10 and beat the world record in order to win the gold medal. You have to think that way, because if you expect it to be easy it never is.”

Vlasic, 24, takes pressure in her stride. Although she came to wider public attention only with her gold-medal win in Osaka, Japan, the Croatian was no overnight success story and she has known her share of setbacks.

The two-times junior world champion will be competing at her third Games in Beijing, having made her Olympic debut as an inexperienced 16-year-old in Sydney.

THYROID DISORDER

In Athens four years ago she was tipped as an outside medal hope but illness derailed her preparations. She was later diagnosed with a thyroid disorder and had the gland removed in a 2005 operation.

“My first Olympics I was too young, I didn’t know why I was there or who brought me there and at the second one I was just too sick,” Vlasic recalled.

”I have to take medication every morning still for the thyroid problem but it’s just part of the routine, like brushing your teeth.

“Now I finally think, or hope, that I‘m coming to the Games in good shape, healthy and with enough confidence to do some good stuff.”

Thanks to her long legs, which she also puts to effective use during her crowd-pleasing victory dances, Vlasic is used to people thinking that her sporting success has come easily.

”I was always very tall with very long legs even as a girl, but often it’s harder for tall people to jump well because you need to balance good technique with good coordination of your whole body.

”Clearly my height is an advantage for me now because I have learned how to handle it but in the past it gave me plenty of problems.

“People might not always believe it, but it’s not like you just get long legs and then you can jump easily.”

Editing by Clare Fallon

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