Feature03 Sep 2016

Jumping stress-free is the secret to Spanovic's consistency


Ivana Spanovic in the long jump at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Zurich (© AFP / Getty Images)

Major championships may determine the top athlete on any given day, but the IAAF Diamond League rewards the athletes with the best season-long consistency.

It’s no wonder, then, that Ivana Spanovic considers her biggest achievement of 2016 to be her Diamond Trophy.

“It’s unreal,” said the Serbian long jumper after finishing second at the IAAF Diamond League final in Zurich, having already done enough to win the Diamond Race in that event.

“It’s something that I always dreamed about. And I can honestly say that I can position this trophy in front of my Olympic bronze; that’s how much it means to me.

“I was really unhappy with my bronze medal,” she said of her third-place finish in Rio. “There was so much more I could have done there. But this makes up for missing out on silver or gold in Rio.”

Spanovic’s third-round jump in the Olympic final appeared to land way beyond seven metres, perhaps somewhere in the region of 7.20m. But the official’s red flag went up and a replay showed that she had stepped into the plasticine by one centimetre.

“That wasn’t the first time that something like that happened,” she said. “There are many competitions where you jump a lot less than you are able to, but that’s sport.”

She went on to break her own Serbian record in the Olympic final with 7.08m and then backed it up with 7.05m, but it wasn’t quite enough to beat US duo Tianna Bartoletta and Brittney Reese, who took gold and silver respectively with 7.17m and 7.15m.

“I was the best I could be at any given moment at the big championships,” said Spanovic, recognising that she was still able to produce her best when it mattered. “The other girls were just better than me.”

Mental strength

Although she is still only 26 years old, Rio was Spanovic’s third Olympic Games.

She was 18 when she competed in Beijing in 2008, so little was expected of her. Her preparation for the 2012 Games in London was hampered by a foot injury one year prior. She still managed to reach the final, but was some way short of her best.

Spanovic managed to turn things around for the most recent Olympic cycle, though, and has been a model of consistency. She has taken medals at eight consecutive major championships from 2013 to 2016 and has improved her personal best in each of those years.

Having won the world U20 title in 2008, Spanovic kick-started her string of senior successes by taking bronze at the IAAF World Championships Moscow 2013. She then earned a medal of the same hue at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Sopot 2014 and took silver at that year’s European Championships.

Last year she won the European indoor title and followed it with another bronze medal at IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015. And this year she took silver at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016, gold at the European Championships and bronze at the Olympic Games in Rio.

Spanovic’s ability to rise to the occasion is reflected in the fact that five of her six best ever jumps – all of which are seven metres or farther – have been set in championship finals.

But it’s not just the major championships where Spanovic is consistent.

In this year’s IAAF Diamond League, she has won five of the seven meetings – a record tally for the women’s long jump since the series began in 2010.

Her distances have been incredibly consistent too. With a shortest leap of 6.83m and a best of 7.08m, Spanovic’s jumps this year have all fallen within a range of 25 centimetres. To put that in context, the ranges for Olympic gold and silver medallists Bartoletta and Reese this year are 89 and 57 centimetres respectively.

The key, Spanovic says, has been learning to compete without pressure.

“I think the mental preparation is the most important,” she said. “There are always rivals and there’s always someone else who could surprise. But when I know that I’m ready, I don’t have any stress.

“I have a lot of self-confidence from the medals I’ve won at major championships,” she added. “I don’t have any stress when I compete. I love when Brittney is there, I love when Tianna is there. I have no fear and I enjoy competing.”

Two goals left

Most of the space in her medal cabinet may have already been taken up, but Spanovic is hungrier than ever as she embarks on fulfilling her two remaining career ambitions.

“This year was amazing: I won the European Championships, I was second at the World Indoors, I was third at the Olympics and now I’ve won the Diamond Trophy,” said Spanovic. “This trophy means the world to me.

“But from the moment I started in athletics, I always had so much respect for the athletes who had European, world and Olympic gold medals,” she added. “So that’s my next goal: to work as hard as hell to win the world title next year and Olympic gold in Tokyo.

“After this year, I cannot wait for next year to fight for the gold medal at the World Championships.”

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF