Split, CroatiaWhen strolling the charming streets of this historic Dalmatian seaside resort town, it doesn’t take long to figure out that local girl Blanka Vlasic has a very important date on Sunday at Split’s Poljud Stadium.
From the seaside’s enchanting ‘Riva’ to the city’s vibrant market places and bustling squares, images of the Croatian high jumper are everywhere, inviting locals, along with the late season tourists who annually descend upon this enchanting Dalmatian coast hub, to join the host nation’s No. 1 sports star and the city’s No. 1 celebrity at this weekend’s IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup.
That Vlasic serves as the Continental Cup’s poster girl in her home town is hardly a surprise. Billboards, posters and banners with images of the tall and slender Croatian figuring prominently are nothing new to athletics fans around the world, but here at home, where she’s a household name, her starring role takes on a whole different meaning. It’s nothing short of yet another dream come true for history’s second highest jumper, and a moment the two-time World champion plans to relish, and one she’s delighted to share.
“Fifteen years ago I competed in Poljud for the first time, in an empty stadium,” Vlasic recalls. “I asked my dad if it would ever be possible for me to compete here with a full stadium. Of course, he didn’t know the answer.” That occasion would take a while, but it would come. In the meantime she had business to attend to.
First came a pair of World junior titles, then later back-to-back World indoor victories and two straight World triumphs outdoors. As her star rose in those ensuing years, so too did her star power. The past two winters, Vlasic has managed to attract capacity crowds of more than 12,000 to Split’s Spaladium Arena for a women’s-only High Jump competition. On both occasions, the meet boasted the largest indoor crowds assembled anywhere in the world that season. Indeed, when she steps onto the track on Sunday some 11 years after that dreamy teenager asked her father a simple question, she’ll do so as the closest thing to royalty this city, made famous by the Roman emperor Diocletian, can boast.
“In time, other dreams of mine have come true and now this one will also,” Vlasic said. “I’m so proud to be a part of this atmosphere of these two great days for Croatian athletics and for my town.”
Split's No. 1 world Ambassador?
As proud as she is that Split will host 2010’s most significant gathering in the sport, she’s equally delighted that she can finally share the splendor of her hometown with her fellow athletes and fans. Vlasic is never shy about extolling the virtues of her Dalmatian roots, an enthusiasm that is rapidly becoming infectious.
“I think their impressions are already very good because Split is a beautiful town and this will be a great experience for everyone,” Vlasic said, with athletes David Rudisha, David Oliver and Valerie Adams nodding in agreement. So too apparently did a plane full of otherwise travel-hardened athletes yesterday morning, who woke from a late morning slumber to a chorus of “ooohs” and “aaaahs” as their plane circled over the azure Adriatic waves and dozens of nearby Islands as it approached to city’s airport. “I feel like I’m on vacation,” said one, standing beneath a row of palm trees at the airport as he waited for his ride.
A new chapter
But it’s not vacation time just yet. Vlasic returned home riding a six-meet win streak, with victories in ten of her 12 outings this season, a perfect seven-for-seven record in the Samsung Diamond League, along with an elusive European title finally in her possession. It’s work, of course, but she’s having the time of her life.
“As time goes by, I’m enjoying what I’m doing even more,” said Vlasic, whose primary goal this weekend is to retake the world lead (2.05m) from rival Chaunte Lowe. “Each year is different, each year is more enjoyable.”
“And sometimes I think as if I’m at the beginning of my career,” she continued. “I think that all the hard and difficult years are behind me. And it’s very enjoyable now that I’m at this high level. But of course, I hope that in future years I’ll achieve even more.”
Her defence of home turf on Sunday, before what organisers hope will be a capacity crowd of Split’s notoriously vociferous fans, will provide an appropriate setting for her career’s next chapter.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup
Composition of Teams
- Each team will be allowed to enter two athletes in each event (three in the 1500m, 3000m, 5000m and 3000mSC but only the first two finishers from each team shall score points).
- Only one athlete from any one country may compete in each individual event.
- individual events: 1st: 8pts – 2nd: 7pts – 3rd: 6pts – 4th: 5pts – 5th: 4pts – 6th: 3pts – 7th: 2pts – 8th: 1pt
- relays: 1st: 15pts – 2nd: 11pts – 3rd: 7pts – 4th: 3pts
- teams: Points achieved by men and women will be combined and the overall winner of the IAAF Continental Cup will be the team with the most combined points.