Blanka Vlasic returned to top form with a 2.00m clearance and victory at Saturday's Paris Diamond League, and it has now been FOURTEEN years since the 30-year-old won her first global title at the world juniors. SPIKES finds out what it's like to win so much so young.
What for many is a first outing on the global stage, was peanuts for Vlasic. At just 16, she competed at the Santiago 2000 World Junior Championships as an Olympian.
“I was lucky to jump in the Sydney Olympics just before the world junior championships in Chile. That experience helped me a lot. I didn't have stage fright, just a usual pre-competition jitters,” says Vlasic – the athlete who has united the arts of high jump and dance like few others.
She jumped 1.92m at the Sydney Olympics and failed to make the final, but took gold with 1.91m at the world junior championships in Santiago de Chile a month later.
“That gold medal for me and my team was a confirmation that we are on the right path. It gave me additional motivation to keep going, but also changed my life in terms of media exposure.
“Now when I think about, it was pretty much one of those moments in life that define your future. You don't get many of those.”
A 17-year-old Vlasic competing in 2001, way before Miley Cyrus.
“I felt very proud wearing my team uniforms and being able to jump for my country.
“One of the best feelings is at the victory ceremony, when your national anthem is playing and every person needs to stand up for it. Even now, after all these years, it still feels pretty special when competing for Croatia.”
In 2002, she continued her rise to the top by winning her second consecutive world junior title, this time in Kingston, Jamaica, where the likes of Valerie Adams and Usain Bolt kick-started their careers.
“Both Chile 2000 and Jamaica 2002 were pretty special, and exotic places to compete at. There are a lot of nice memories because we needed to go earlier to adapt on the time difference and had a lot of time hanging out with each other.
“Naturally, we were more relaxed about our performances. You can't escape being a teenager!”
“And that made those big competitions less stressful and more fun. Also, I made some friends for life. For example, with Ivana Brkljacic, who also won both world junior titles in the hammer throw, I'm still very, very close.”
As we’ve seen over the decades, some of the most talented junior athletes never made it through to the senior ranks.
“It is a good 'kick off' in terms of gaining experience for the senior competitions,” says Vlasic about the world juniors, which take place in two weeks time in Eugene, Oregon. “But it's not good to stay under the influence of your junior successes. Sometimes it can fool you. There is still a lot of work ahead. The hardest part is yet to come.”
Vlasic: “Be patient. I know it's hard”
It’s definitely not been easy for Vlasic in the past few years. She missed out on the London Olympics due to injury after taking silver in 2008, and injury hit again last year.
Her advice? “Be patient. I know it's hard. I'm still struggling with that sometimes. Being a top athlete means being able to last many years on a high level. Aim towards that consistency.”
With seven senior world medals, four of them being gold, she has definitely proven herself as one of the best female high jumpers of this century, but should you wonder what’s her favourite off-duty memory, there’s only one answer.
“The parties after winning, of course.”