03 SEP 2009 General News Brussels, Belgium

Vlasic returns to Brussels, flying high and pressure-free - ÅF Golden League

Blanka Vlasic up and over 2.08m in Zagreb to become #2 all-time (Zagreb organisers)Blanka Vlasic up and over 2.08m in Zagreb to become #2 all-time (Zagreb organisers) © Copyright
When she arrived in the Belgian capital one year ago, Blanka Vlasic was carrying a bit more than her usual circuit baggage. This time around, the load will be considerably lighter.

12 days before the Memorial Van Damme a year ago, the popular Croatian watched her 34 meeting win streak come to a screeching halt at Beijing’s Olympic Stadium where the heavy favourite for gold had to settle for silver, beaten by Belgian Tia Hellebaut on countback at 2.05m. She followed up with a victory in Zurich and landed in Brussels as one of two remaining contenders for a share of the $1 million ÅF Golden League. Hoping to end the season on a high as a co-winner of athletics biggest prize, Vlasic instead literally watched it rain on her parade. Rain is the Croatian’s worst nemesis, and she was never able to execute properly on the wet Brussels apron, and again had to settle for second, again on countback, this time to the then-rising German star, Ariane Friedrich.

“I couldn’t find my technique on the wet track,” Vlasic said after $500,000 slipped from her grasp. “I’m very sorry but not because of the money, but because this was (to be) the consolation prize for this season. But in the end I was just too tired because I had so many jumps.”

Fortunately for Vlasic, fortunes can change quickly in track and field. It’s expected to rain again here on Friday evening, but an educated guess suggests that the 25-year-old won’t be too bothered. She’ll face no such pressure this year, as her Jackpot ambitions ended early on with her dramatic defeat at the hands of Freidrich in the series opener in Berlin. Two stops later she lost again, finishing behind Italy’s Antonietta Di Martino in Rome. But she’ll nonetheless be looking for her second Brussels victory – she won here in 2007 – as the world’s finest jumper.

When she returned to Berlin last month to defend her World title, she wasn’t quite the prohibitive favourite she was a year earlier in Beijing and the year before that in Osaka. She competes too much, some critics said, her German rival has gotten into her head, others chimed in. But the only thing in Vlasic’s head in Berlin, besides a fierce determination, were six stitches from a freak accident just a few hours before the qualifying round. In one of the most dramatic and entertaining contests of the championships, Vlasic collected the World crown to become just the second woman to win back-to-back titles.

Fatigued physically and emotionally, Vlasic nonetheless won her follow-up in Zurich, again defeating Friedrich and silver medallist Anna Chicherova. Whatever the extent of her post-Berlin exhaustion, it faded quickly three days later on home turf in Zagreb where she put together the finest series of her career. Producing a perfect slate through 2.05m, she maintained that momentum with another first attempt clearance at 2.08m to break her own national record for the rapturous crowd and take sole possession of the No. 2 spot all-time. She concluded with three solid efforts at a would be World record of 2.10m, the second particularly good.

So what’s in store for Brussels?

“I of course want to jump well but the weather there might not be that good,” she said in Zagreb, noting that she had already checked Friday's forecast. "The good thing is that if it rains, I can try out everything we practiced for jumping on wet surfaces."

If the conditions work out in her favour, she’ll be chasing another mark set by World record holder Stefka Kostadinova, the 2.04m meeting record set in 1985.

Although Friedrich won’t be here, Vlasic will still face a formidable line-up which includes Berlin silver medallist Chicherova of Russia and her compatriot Irina Gordeyeva, who joined the ranks of two-metre jumpers outdoors with a 2.02m clearance in Eberstadt on 30 August. Also looking to end the season on a high will be Di Martino, Spanish record holder Ruth Beitia, and American Chaunte Howard.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF