| Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic has been named the world's best female athlete in 2010 by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Blanka Vla¹iæ was all smiles on Sunday in Monaco, where she collected the IAAF World Athlete of the Year award, the first ever for a Croatian athlete. |
Vlasic â€“ beating the opposition, and her own demons
Vlasic came to the fore after winning back-to-back World junior titles in 2000 and 2002. Her star rose consistently in the ensuing years; by 2006 she was already one of the premiere stars of her event. She took her first World title in Osaka in 2007, was narrowly beaten into second place at the 2008 Olympic Games, and followed up with a second straight World outdoor title in Berlin in 2009, a season in which assaults on Stefka Kostadinovaâ€™s 2.09m World record became commonplace. She ended the year as historyâ€™s second highest jumper after clearing 2.08m on home soil in Zagreb. Yet again, expectations were high for 2010.
She began the year with another busy and solid indoor campaign, with six victories in as many competitions, and capped it in Doha with her second straight World indoor title.
But as the focus turned to the outdoor season, Vlasic admittedly struggled, both physically and psychologically, to find her form. She nonetheless fought her demons throughout the summer, winning five of her seven competitions prior to arriving in Barcelona for the European Championships. Despite an extensive list of accomplishments, a medal of any sort at the continental level had eluded her. Vlasic would later admit that not having found her form by mid-summer, she seriously considered not competing in the Catalan capital. Off to a shaky start in the final, those self-doubts were clearly visible. But she battled on and took firm control with a second attempt clearance at 2.03 to equal her seasonâ€™s best and secure the title.
Post-Barcelona proved to be vintage Vlasic. She won the rest of her six competitions, saving her best performance for her last competition of the year in Europe. Her hometown of Split was the setting for the IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup, with Vlasic clearly the centre of attention. The expectations were again exceedingly high -- posters and billboards of Vlasic, this charming Dalmatian seaside cityâ€™s Citizen No. 1, were everywhere-- and more than 30,000 vociferous fans turned out to share Vlasicâ€™s starring role. She didnâ€™t disappoint, winning the competition with a seasonâ€™s best 2.05m before bowing out with three attempts at the World record, one effort close enough to stir the enthralled crowdâ€™s imagination. All things considered, her appearance before a home crowd at Poljud Stadium was among the most memorable moments of the 2010 season, and one of the finest in World Cup/Continental Cup history.
In all, Vlasic won all but two of her 20 competitions in 2010, and living up to her role as a Samsung Diamond League Ambassador, notched a perfect seven-for-seven record in the seriesâ€™ inaugural season.
Blanka Vlasic - hights and rankings achieved in 2010
2.01iÂ Â Â Â 1 Tøinec 26 Jan
2.06i NRÂ 1 Arnstadt 6 Feb
2.01iÂ Â Â Â 1 Stockholm 10 Feb
2.03iÂ Â Â Â 1 Split 21 Feb
2.04iÂ Â Â Â 1 BanskÃ¡ Bystrica 4 Mar
2.00iÂ Â Â Â 1 World Indoor Championships, Doha 13 Mar
1.98Â Â Â Â 1 Doha 14 May
1.92Â Â Â Â 3 Ostrava 27 May
2.01Â Â Â Â 1 Oslo 4 Jun
2.03Â Â Â Â 1 Roma 10 Jun
1.94Â Â Â Â 1 Beograd 20 Jun
2.00Â Â Â Â 2 Barcelona 9 Jul
2.02Â Â Â Â 1 Paris/Saint-Denis 16 Jul
2.03Â Â Â Â 1 European Championships, Barcelona 1 Aug
2.02Â Â Â Â 1 Stockholm 6 Aug
2.01Â Â Â Â 1 London 13 Aug
2.00Â Â Â Â 1 Bruxelles 27 Aug
2.02Â Â Â Â 1 Zagreb 1 Sep
2.05Â Â Â Â 1 Contintental Cup, Split 5 Sep
1.97Â Â Â Â 1 Kawasaki 19 Sep
Vla¹iæ: From the brink to the best
On Sunday, Croatia's Blanka Vla¹iæ was named World Athlete of the Year by the IAAF. But her rise to the top of the track and field world was preceded by some emotional low points that nearly forced the 27-year-old to quit the sport last year.
By Joe Battaglia, Universal Sports
Blanka Vla¹iæ was all smiles on Sunday in Monaco, where she collected the IAAF World Athlete of the Year award, the first ever for a Croatian athlete.
To the general public, seeing Vla¹iæ, 27, happy is not that uncommon, especially for someone who wins high jump competitions at the rate - 93 victories in the last five years - that she does.
But what the fans and media have not been privy to are the liters of tears shed and moments of despair, particularly over the last three seasons, that had her contemplating quitting the sport before eventually fueling her rise to the top of the track & field world this year.
"When I lost in Beijing and then lost the Golden League in 2008 and finished fourth at the European Indoor Championships, it was the worst time of my life," Vla¹iæ said in a recent conversation. "I had a real crisis of proportions. For the first time, I was thinking I don't want to jump anymore."
On one hand, it's unfathomable to think that a woman who was seemingly born to jump - Vla¹iæ qualified for her first Olympic team in 2000 at the age of 16 and has the second-most 2.00m/6-63 clearances in the history of the sport - would want to clip her own wings.
But pressure, and failing to meet lofty expectations, can do that to an athlete. It happened to Russian great Yelena Isinbayeva, the world record holder in the women's pole vault, this year.
And it nearly happened to Vla¹iæ.
In 2008, she went to the Beijing Olympics riding a 34-meet winning streak and seemingly cloaked by an aura of invincibility. But in the final, all it took was one slip- up, a single missed attempt at 2.05m/6-83 and the gold went to Tia Hellebaut of Belgium.
"I was under stress all year before Beijing," Vla¹iæ said. "Everybody was asking me about the Olympics and the winning streak. The silver medal was a disappointment for me, even though I didn't let anybody know that I was generally disappointed. It was a good result, but afterward I had a few hard days."
Vla¹iæ picked up the pieces, and six days later won at the Weltklasse Zurich meeting, her fifth in the former Golden League which awarded a share of a $1 million jackpot to athletes who finished unbeaten in the six-meet series. But she was beginning to run on empty. In the finale at the Memorial van Damme in Brussels, she was beaten by Germany's Ariane Friedrich, who was fresher having not qualified for the Olympic final or competed in Zurich.
"In Brussels, I was emotionally drained," Vla¹iæ said. "People have said it was because I couldn't stand up to the pressure. Come on! If I could survive Beijing, I could survive everything. I was so empty, so messed up. I was so tired I could barely breathe."
But Vla¹iæ reached her breaking point last winter when she managed only a fifth-place finish at the European Indoor Championships in Torino.
"When I jumped 1.92m at European Indoors, it was a consequence of what happened in Beijing and what happened in Brussels and I just couldn't take it," Vla¹iæ said. "I had a complete breakdown."
Shortly thereafter, Vla¹iæ flew to Los Angeles to do a photo shoot for adidas. The whole time she entertained thoughts of quitting, but had a change of heart during a moment of solitude.
"My last day in L.A., we were in Chinatown and I went driving," she said. "I went down to Santa Monica and started running by the beach. In the middle of that run, the motivation came back to me. I said, â€˜This is it. I am coming back and I am doing it all over again.'"
Since then, mental preparation became as big a part of Vla¹iæ's training regimen as anything physical, and the strengthening of her mind has played a critical role in the biggest victories of her.
Last year, she rebounded from that awful finish to the indoor season to beat Friedrich in a pressure-packed duel at the World Championships in Berlin. In March, she shrugged off stiff competition in Doha to win the World Indoor title. This summer, she overcame a rocky start and two losses to American Chaunte Lowe to win the European Championship and finish unbeaten in seven Diamond League meets.
And Vla¹iæ said this is only the tip of the iceberg.
"When you have a crisis of self-doubt, you have no idea how good it feels to win," Vla¹iæ said. "Maybe it was karma that made me be not so good so that I could search the part of me that I didn't discover. This year I discovered that, and maybe next year I will learn how to use it.
"I am more motivated than ever. I'm only at the beginning of my career. It feels great to be able to say that now after 10 years."
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP)Â
Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic has been voted women's European Athlete of the Year
Vlasic earned the honor Thursday by winning her first European outdoor title in Barcelona, world indoors gold at Doha, Qatar, and all seven Diamond League meets that staged her event.
Her jump of 2.06 meters indoors at Arnstadt, Germany, in February was the highest all year.
The 26-year-old Vlasic also won the European award in 2007. It is organized by the European Athletics governing body and voted on by national federations, fans, media and an expert panel.
Formated for CROWN by prof.dr. Darko ®ubriniæ
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