Josko Vlasic: The Split personality who is best bar none
It is fair to say that Blanka Vlasic was always destined to put her name on the map. After all, she was named after Casablanca, the city where her father, Josko Vlasic, won the decathlon for Yugoslavia at the Mediterranean Games in September 1983.
Since June last year, Blanka has been busy playing it again and again, racking up 34 consecutive victories in the high jump. The 24-year-old Croatian has some way to go before she matches the winning streak achieved by the peerless Edwin Moses in the 400m hurdles – 122 races over nine years, nine months and nine days – but she boasts the longest current winning run at international level in track and field and will be the firmest favourite when the athletics action gets under way at the Beijing Olympics.
Vlasic won 18 of her 19 competitions in 2007, claimed the World Championships title in Osaka and raised her personal best to 2.07m. Only two women have jumped higher: Stefka Kostadinova, the Bulgarian whose world-record mark of 2.09m has stood since the 1987 World Championships in Rome; and Kajsa Bergqvist of Sweden, who cleared 2.08m indoors at Arnstadt in Germany in 2006. This year Vlasic heads the world rankings with a jump of 2.06m and has made five clearances higher than any achieved by her rivals. It is not just the impressive accomplishments, though, that have set her apart from the rest of the world. Vlasic is possibly the smoothest- ever practitioner of Dick Fosbury's Flop: a picture of composure as she prepares to jump, then elevating her long-legged 6ft 3in frame over the bar, more often than notwithout dislodging it and with apparently supreme ease.
With her distinctive facial features, she has come to be known in the British section of the press box as Miss Jones, being something of a ringer for Frances de la Tour – or Ruth Jones, the object of Leonard Rossiter's affections in 'Rising Damp'. To a wider audience, Miss Vlasic has become renowned for the classic pose she strikes (left) and celebratory wiggle she performs in the immediate aftermath of particularly satisfying clearances – most notably on the global stage, when she sailed over 2.05m to secure the world title last August. "I feel good celebrating like this," she said. "It's good for a change not to have cramp on your face."
It is also pretty good that the celebrated Split personality has Fosbury as a paid-up admirer. Vlasic has made 36 attempts to clear 2.10m but Fosbury expects her to break the world record. "It would be helpful if she had some competition to push her," he said. "That's what worked with me. But I'm very hopeful she'll set a new standard for the women. She's very impressive. I met her in Monaco at an athletics gala. What a nice person! What a great athlete!"
Indeed. But great athletes, great favourites for gold, have failed to find their Midas touch in the Olympic arena before. Think Ron Clarke, Jim Ryun, David Bedford, Colin Jackson, Paula Radcliffe. "Don't think I'm relaxed because I have won 34 competitions in a row," Vlasic said, as she looked ahead to her date with destiny in Beijing. "I'm very much aware that I'm not unbeatable and if I lose my concentration I can be beaten."
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