Despite all her success, and her undoubted talent, when Blanka Vlasic walked into the Bird’s Nest Stadium for the women’s high jump final, she couldn’t possibly foresee what was about to happen.
The Croatian had endured the most tumultuous of summers, competing only twice after being hampered in the extreme by chronic pain in her right achilles tendon. As a result, she made the decision to compete in Beijing at the last possible moment.
“I came here with a big insecurity,” she says. “I wasn’t confident at all. I couldn’t even train on my right leg, so I knew I have no right to expect anything.”
Somehow, against all reasoning, the two-time world champion cleared 2.01m at the first attempt, going on to take a surprise silver medal. Just one failure at the earlier height of 1.92m separated Vlasic from eventual gold medallist Maria Kuchina.
Afterwards, draped in a Croatian flag, with tears flooding her eyes, Vlasic tried to explain just how hard a road she’d travelled to get here.
“At one point I couldn’t walk in the morning,” she said, referring to the pain caused by a bone growth which impinges on her achilles tendon. “It feels like a miracle. I trained every day but it was half rehab and half training. My high jump sessions were very painful, especially afterwards. Two months ago, I woke up one day and couldn’t walk.”