Blanka Vlasic reacts after coming extremely close to breaking the world high jump record (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News 14 September 2009 – Thessaloniki, Greece

Bolt and Vlasic: dancing on the way to new and dizzying heights

Thessaloniki, GreeceUsain Bolt had been connected to a number of different events in past few weeks: from the Long Jump to the 400m and even a 600m race against Kenenisa Bekele. However in Thessaloniki it appeared that as a spectator he liked watching another one: the women’s High Jump. While preparing for the 200m, which he won comfortably in 19.68 at Thessaloniki’s IAAF/VTB Bank World Athletics Final he found time to follow all three of Blanka Vlasic’s world record attempts.

Shortly before Usain Bolt took the 200m the Jamaican found time to watch Vlasic’s final jump shown on the big screen above the bend where he was to start. And he reacted in agony, grabbing his head, when the Croatian star just missed clearing the height of 2.10m.

But since Vlasic had cleared 2.04m earlier she and Bolt have once more produced great results this season. But they had more in common in Greece on Sunday night. Both called it an end to standout seasons.

Competing at the other end of the stadium from Bolt’s 200 m start Vlasic made no mistake up to and including the height of 2.04m. Then she tried 2.10m three times and she seemed to move closer and closer to clearing the World record from attempt to attempt. If rules would have allowed a fourth jump, she might well have flown over.

“Who knows – maybe yes. But there are only three attempts,” Vlasic said, while her coach Bojan Marinovic analysed: “Blanka was just a couple of centimetres too close to the bar when she jumped off.”

Despite this small “mistake” Vlasic appeared to be happy and optimistic. “It will come one day if I stay healthy and can continue to train well – I have no doubts,” she answered, when asked about the World record. “I don’t have to put myself under pressure with this, I just have to jump relaxed. I know that I had good attempts at 2.10 today.” Despite her great late season form Vlasic did not regret her decision to end her season.

After a strong start to the 2009 season the 25 year-old Croatian seemed to lack form in June and July. But looking back at her great season Vlasic said: “I had bad luck at some events because the weather was not so good. But I was always convinced that I would come back jumping high.” Asked if it may be easier to concentrate on World record attempts next year because it will not be a season with global championships she replied: “ No, that makes no difference for me.”

Despite not clearing 2.10m Vlasic was clearly happy in Thessaloniki which she clearly illustrated by dancing on the track. Still watching on the other side of the stadium, that made Bolt change his pre-race programme. When the camera swept to him during the introduction of the 200m runners and the spectators went crazy, the World record holder did not play bow and arrow – instead he started dancing like Blanka! And taking into account that it was probably his first attempt he did extraordinary well in this non-athletics discipline as well.

Vlasic did not know that Bolt had followed all her world record attempts and even copied her dancing. When told in the mixed zone she just laughed. After producing superb highlights on what may have been the best day of the World Championships in Berlin last month the two again were crowd favourites on Sunday. Meeting directors of the 2010 events should be encouraged to sign both of them for maximum performance and entertainment. Athletics can hardly get any better – except maybe if both break their world records and then dance together!

For Bolt there is more dancing to come soon. And he is looking very forward to it. Not on the track though. “I will not miss running on the track when I am on holiday,” he answered when asked about his break after ending the season. “Now I am really happy that the season is over and I came through it without any injuries. When I will come home I will sleep and relax. I am not so much a beach person, I am staying more indoors. I listen to music and go to clubs sometimes.” But once he arrives in Kingston at the beginning of the week after two and a half months in Europe he probably can expect some welcome by fans and officials. “There will be a press conference with members of the government, but after that I will finally relax.”

After his final competition of the year Bolt was asked what he would choose if his coach would offer him either taking the Long Jump or the 400m. “I would go for the Long Jump,” the Jamaican replied. But regarding next year there are no plans yet. “I will talk with my coach what I will do next year.” There are plenty of options for Usain Bolt in 2010 – including more dancing on the track!

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF