The popular Croatian high jump great is ready to start a new chapter after calling time on her successful athletics career
After jumping, and dancing, her way to four world senior titles and multiple major medals, Blanka Vlašić has officially announced her retirement from competitive athletics.
A hugely popular figure both on and off the track, Vlašić’s impressive high jump career included a total of 166 clearances over 2.00m or higher, topped by her 2009 PB of 2.08m which ranks her second on the world all-time list behind only Bulgaria’s Stefka Kostadinova with 2.09m.
Following such success, it was Vlašić’s ambition to become Olympic champion after her silver medal win in Beijing and bronze achieved in Rio which motivated her through a further Olympic cycle, despite her injury struggles.
But confirming her retirement decision on Friday (Feb 19), Vlašić said it had “come naturally”.
“Every athlete will understand me – parting is not easy,” she explained. “We leave behind great emotions, conquered peaks, victories over ourselves, and magnificent moments that cannot be described in words. But it all remains a part of us – a part we carry into the future. And I carry all my successes and failures and I will weave them into a new story.
“I will always stay in the sport. With my experience and knowledge, I want to permanently and actively contribute to the further development of world athletics and sports in general.”
The 37-year-old has already given the sport so much. Her high jump journey began when Vlašić was at primary school, when she won her debut competition, and that set the tone for the success which was to follow.
She was coached by her father Joško – the Croatian decathlon record-holder who won the 1983 Mediterranean Games title in Casablanca, which inspired Blanka’s name when she was born a couple of months later – and Bojan Marinović, whom she started working with as a teenager.
Her first major title was achieved in Santiago in 2000 – the year in which she also qualified for her first Olympics aged just 16 – when she won world under-20 gold and she retained the title two years later in Kingston with a 1.96m clearance. Vlašić then won the European Under-23 Championships in 2003 before world indoor bronze in 2004, silver in 2008 and double gold in 2008 and 2010. Outdoors Vlašić gained her two world gold medals in 2007 and 2009, with silver secured in both 2011 and 2015.
“Ever since Rio, I have been trying to overcome injury, a full four years of hope that I will stand in front of the bar and challenge myself once again,” said the former AW cover star. “I have been breathing sports since I was born, the high jump is an integral part of me, and it will always be that way. So, I let the decision to end my career come naturally.
“Before I won bronze in Rio many people told me to give up as I have already done a lot in the sport. But if I had listened to them, I would not have won another Olympic medal, a medal that has a special meaning to me because I won it literally with one healthy leg. That competition took everything out of me, even what I didn’t know I had.”
She added: “I am proud of my career. First of all, I am grateful to God for the blessing of talent and the circumstances in which that talent could flourish. To friends and fans who believed and jumped along with me. Although athletics is an individual sport, I always felt like part of a team because I didn’t jump just for myself. Running the victory lap with the Croatian flag has always been the greatest honour for me. With peace in my heart, gratitude for every inch and every applause, I turn to the next page in my life.”
Speaking with AW’s Stuart Weir in 2016, during her last year of competition, Vlašić explained how she felt she was born to do the high jump and, on her victory celebrations, she added: “Every competition is a challenge. When I am dancing you know that competition is going well. And when things are going well, it is easy to dance.
“Not every jump is a good one so I don’t dance after every jump. But every jump is a challenge and I try to do my best. I feel that I was born to do high jump. That is why there is no place I would rather be than in the field.”