Meet the Sports Stars of Split: Blanka Vlašić

Daniela Rogulj

Continuing our series looking at the sports stars of Split, today we meet World Champion high-jumper Blanka Vlašić.

Blanka Vlašić was born in Split on November 8, 1983. Born into a “sports family”, Blanka’s father Joško was a successful athlete and the winner of the gold medal at the Mediterranean Games in Casablanca, the city that inspired the name “Blanka”, and her mother Venera is the former Yugoslavian champion in cross-country skiing.

Blanka first drew attention to her athletics at the age of 16 when she began achieving remarkable results in high-jumping. From the age of 17, she participated at the 2000 Sydney Junior Olympics, and just one year later, she had already placed sixth at the World Athletics Championships in Edmonton, Canada. In the Junior competition, Blanka was untouchable. She won two World Championship titles, and the first time she jumped 200 cm high was at the Hanžeković memorial in Zagreb.

After a successful take-off in the world of senior athletes and high expectations after the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens by the Croatian public, Blanka ended her series of successful appearances. An unhealthy thyroid function appeared for the athlete due to stress, and Blanka had an operation in 2005. 

In 2006, however, Blanka was back. 

This year, Blanka had broken a jump of 2 meters 13 times, breaking a 205 cm jump indoor and a 203 cm outdoor jump. At the World Junior Championships in Moscow, she won second place and again satisfied her proud fans. Blanka’s 2006 season was better than she could ever imagine. 

While she was without competition for 333 days (since the Croatian championship in 2005), Blanka successfully returned at the beginning of 2006 when she achieved the best results of her career at the time. She was awarded the “Franjo Bučar” State Prize for Sports in 2006 and was nominated for the Best Athlete in 2007.

The year 2007 was another brilliant one for Blanka; however, the start was not so promising. 

At the European Outdoor Championship in Birmingham, Blanka placed in 5th with a jump of 192 cm. While she participated in eight outdoor meetings, she only won three. At the athletic meeting in Split on February 24, 2007, she placed 2nd with a jump of 200 cm. At the first athletic outdoor rally in Doha, Qatar, she achieved a Croatian record with a jump of 204 cm. In Madrid, she jumped 205 cm and just a week later on July 30, 2007, she jumped to a height of 206 cm in Thessaloniki, thus achieving both a new personal and Croatian record. But because the year was this good for the athlete, she ended up breaking her personal record just another week after that in Stockholm with a jump of 207 cm. Thus, four times in the 2007 season, Blanka broke both her own and Croatia’s record. She tried to break the world record of Bugarke Stefke Kostadin seven times, who jumped 209 cm.

On September 2, 2007, at the Osaka World Championship in Japan, a 205 cm jump on her third attempt gave Blanka the title of World Champion.

Blanka won 18 out of 19 competitions in the outdoor season, including meetings of the Golden League in Paris, Rome, Zurich, Brussels and Berlin. Only in Oslo did she come in second. She won at the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart, and at 20 competitions, she jumped 200 cm. Even more honorable is that 11 times she jumped 202 cm outdoor, while all the other athletes jumped eight times in the season. Blanka had 6 of the best jumps of the season and 8 of the top 10. Blanka was, therefore, declared the European athlete of the year.

Blanka was also nominated for the best athlete of the year and came in second, and the World Athletics Federation (IAAF) announced her as the best female athletic result of the year (207 cm jump). In the election of Sports News, she was named the best Croatian athlete in 2007 and entered history as the first to receive the votes of all 365 journalists. No other athletes won a single vote.

In the 2008 season, Blanka won all outdoor competitions (until June 1) at all eight competitions she was in – with jumps over two meters. A series of wins then began at the indoor competitions. At the Göteborg meeting on January 29th, she achieved her first win of the season with a 201 cm jump. She won in Arnstad on February 2nd with a jump of 203 cm, in Banska Bistrica on February 5th with a jump of 204 cm, and in Karlsruhe on February 10th with a jump of 202 cm. Before appearing in Split at Gripe’s Hall, she complained of hip pain, but she again won a 201 cm meeting. The outdoor season began in May and Blanka continued to win, achieving the first six best season results, of which the highest jump was 206 cm. 

And then a highlight moment of her career happened: At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Blanka achieved a silver medal.

In August 2009, Blanka defended the title of the world champion, and on August 31st at Hanžeković in Zagreb, she broke her record with a jump of 208 cm, which is the second result of all time.

At the World Indoor Championship in Doha, Qatar, Blanka came in first with a jump of 200 cm, defending the title. At the European Championship in Barcelona, Blanka won a gold medal with a jump of 203 cm, which was the result of the season. At the Continental Cup held in Split, Blanka won in front of over 20,000 viewers.

In 2010, Blanka won the World indoor title and her first European title, and by the end of December 2010, the Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal and Blanka Vlašić were selected as the best athletes in the world in 2010 by the International Association of Sports Journalists. 

The wins kept coming in 2011, and at the World Championships in Daegu, Blanka received the silver medal. 

Injuries set back Blanka in 2012, and the athlete decided to have an operation on her Achilles tendon in January. After developing an infection after the surgery which forced another operation, Blanka had to pull out of the London Olympics and missed the entire indoor and outdoor season this year.

With a comeback in 2014 less impressive placings and more injuries this year, Blanka was finally back on track in 2015 and competed in her first major outdoor championship since Daegu. She earned silver in the competition which felt more like gold for the Croat.

While injuries kept haunting the athlete in 2016, after another surgery and the inability to compete in the outdoor season, Blanka cancelled her European Championships and the London Diamond League to prepare for the Summer Olympics.  That Olympic competition, Blanka finished in third and became the seventh female athlete in the history of the discipline to win two Olympic medals.

Blanka has no plans to retire yet and hopes to come back next year to prepare for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.


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