14 JUL 2008 General News

Jelimo and Vlasic, their seasons so far - ÅF Golden League, Paris

Pamela Jelimo notches up another impressive 800m victory (Getty Images)Pamela Jelimo notches up another impressive 800m victory (Getty Images) © Copyright

When the pursuit of the ÅF Golden League $1 million Jackpot resumes on Friday evening (18) at the Meeting Gaz de France Paris Saint-Denis, the spotlight will be on two women who have taken two very distinct paths towards athletics’ richest prize.

One, Pamela Jelimo, is an unassuming teenager who hadn’t even raced over 800 metres prior to this season. And the other, Blanka Vlasic, has been steadily asserting herself as the world’s finest high jumper since her teenage years.

Jelimo - The breakout story of 2008

Regardless of how her season ultimately ends, it will be difficult to top the phenomenal rise of Jelimo as the greatest breakout story of 2008. A former long sprinter and just 18, Jelimo was convinced to try her hand in 800m, and from her first outing, a respectable 2:01.02 performance at altitude in Nairobi at the African Championship Trials in late April, it was evident that she just might have a future in the event.

A 1:58.70 national junior record followed at the African Championships in Addis Ababa two weeks later, but even that gold medal-winning run paled in comparison to what a sold-out crowd would witness at the IAAF World Athletics Tour meeting Hengelo 20 days later. Blazing from the gun, Jelimo stormed away from a solid field en route to a 1:55.76 performance, smashing the 15-year-old World junior record. Her initial reaction?

"Next time I think I can go much faster."

She kept her word. In what was apparently just her fifth outing over the distance, Jelimo forged into territory the world hadn’t seen in nearly 11 years with a jaw-dropping 1:54.99 run in front of more than 67,000 spectators at Berlin’s cavernous Olympic Stadium in the ÅF Golden League series kick-off. Only five women have ever run faster, and she had already supplanted legend Maria Mutola as the African record holder.

She followed up with three more dominating performances, winning in Oslo in 1:55.41; at the Kenyan Olympic Trials in 1:57.71, the fastest time ever recorded in Kenya; and again last Friday in Rome with a seemingly effortless 1:55.69. The average margin of victory in her last six races was a whopping 3.06 seconds, a margin unprecedented at this level.

At the moment, nobody who will be taking to the start line at the Stade de France on Friday evening seems prepared to challenge her early season supremacy.

Vlasic - 32 consecutive victories

The same could be said for Vlasic. After finally fulfilling the promise she illustrated with back-to-back World junior titles in 2000 and 2002, the popular 24-year-old Croatian captured the World title last summer in Osaka, and followed up with a gold medal performance indoors in Valencia last March. A heroine at home, Croatia Post issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honour on her 24th birthday.

No stranger to Golden League competition, Vlasic captured wins at five of the six GL stops in 2007, losing only at the opener in Oslo, where she finished second. That loss to reigning Olympic champion Yelena Slesarenko, however, would be her last. In the interim, Vlasic has collected 32 successive victories, currently the longest – by far – win streak in the sport. She’s cleared two metres or better in her last 29 competitions, a streak that could have been even longer had she not been forced to compete in a downpour at the Zagreb Grand Prix at home last July.

Like Jelimo, Vlasic has been competing this season without equal. At the European Cup in Istanbul on June 22 and again in Madrid 12 days later, she cleared a world-leading 2.06m, just a centimetre shy of her PB set last year. At two other meetings she topped out at 2.05m, in Oslo she scaled 2.04m, and on three other occasions won at 2.03m, a height successfully negotiated by only one other woman this season. Her 2.00m clearance to win in Rome last Friday was her lowest jump of the season, yet a height only four others have managed thus far.

Along the way, attempts at Stefka Kostadinova’s 21-year-old World record of 2.09m have become commonplace. To date, she’s taken 36 tries at 2.10m. Friday’s boisterous crowd at the Stade de France, traditionally the largest at a Golden League event, could be treated with a few more.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF