Ivana Spanovic hasn’t competed inside the Olympic Stadium in London since the 2012 Olympics Games but she will become very well acquainted with the track over the next month.
Spanovic will be one of the favourites for the long jump title at the World Championships next month and a victory in the IAAF Diamond League in London tomorrow afternoon will further solidify that status with less than a month until the pinnacle of the season.
But while her last competitive appearance in London might not conjure up too many happy memories, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that competition was the making of Spanovic.
“The Olympic Games in London was the day I made the biggest decision of my life: shall I proceed with athletics or shall I stop?” recalled Spanovic, who scraped through to the final five years ago before finishing tenth.
“From 2011 to 2013, I had so many problems with injuries and health and everything and it’s really hard when you start training and you need to stop and then start again and back again and I needed to try bring out something I have inside me.
“When I survived that 2012 Olympics, I knew it was going to be easier - next year I won my first [major senior competition] outdoor medal and I felt so much more relaxed and there was no more stress. I start to enjoy everything.”
Spanovic’s undulating career path is a cautionary tale that success at junior level does not guarantee immediate success at senior level.
She was a regular on the podium at age-group level, including winning the 2008 world U20 title, but not until 2013 did she claim her first senior medal, winning bronze at the IAAF World Championships that summer in Moscow.
The early chapters of Spanovic’s senior career might have been blighted by illness and injury but the 27-year-old is very much fulfilling her early promise, and more.
Spanovic has now made the podium at nine successive major championships indoors and outdoors, the most recent being at the European Indoor Championships on home soil in Belgrade where she shouldered the responsibility of being the face of the event by producing one of the best series of jumps in history.
The pinnacle of that series came in the fourth round when Spanovic – electrified by chants of ‘I-va-na’ inside a capacity Kombank Arena – soared out to 7.24m, the world’s longest jump indoors since Heike Drechsler went out to 7.30m to win the European indoor title back in 1988.
“There was a lot of expectation and I knew I needed to do something more than just win that gold again; I knew I needed to jump a big PB because I knew how ready I was. There was no pressure; I just felt really good, positive energy from my people and the competition was really good and I think it was really good preparation for the outdoor season.
“The thing is I always get better and better because I know what my limits are. Now that I’ve jumped 7.24m, it wasn’t a surprise for me because I saw my jump in Rio which was a one centimetre fault and I saw it was a really big jump so knew I was capable of it.”
“I don’t know why but I really enjoy jumping indoors – no wind, always calm conditions – and in the future I think I will be capable of getting closer to Drechsler’s world indoor record of 7.37m.
“Outdoors, it’s a bit different and with my best still 7.10m, I’m not thinking about records there just at the moment.”
The early part of Spanovic’s outdoor season was curtailed by a some niggling injuries and a bout of flu during April and May but her prospects of winning a tenth consecutive major medal in London are looking good after belatedly opening her summer campaign with victory in Lausanne on Thursday evening with 6.79m, defeating a good field in the IAAF Diamond League meeting including reigning Olympic champion Tianna Bartoletta.
“This competition [in Lausanne] was really important to me and I definitely wanted to come either first or second. My level of fitness is not yet to its best but I feel good overall. There are five more weeks now to the World Championships in London and I will fully focus on my training,” said Spanovic.
No Serbian has ever won at the IAAF World Championships but don’t bet against Spanovic consigning that fact to history.