The prospect of being the face of a home championship could be a daunting one but not if you are Ivana Spanovic who thrived under the lights of the Kombank Arena.
“As far as I’m concerned, I do not feel any pressure at all,” Spanovic told the press on the eve of the Belgrade 2017 European Athletics Indoor Championships.
“The only time that I would feel pressure would be in those times when I wasn’t one hundred percent ready or some people had much bigger expectations of me. I have to say I’m happy and I’m ready and I will do the best that I can do to jump over seven metres,” she added.
If anything, Spanovic was downplaying her chances at the traditional pre-event press conference. The reigning champion achieved her objective of surpassing the seven metre-line in qualifying, setting a world leading mark of 7.03m in front of a sparse crowd as the second morning session drew to a close in the Serbian capital.
By contrast the Kombank Arena was a cauldron of noise on the final day of the championships as Spanovic took centre stage in the long jump final. Each of her six attempts was accompanied by thunderous rhythmic clapping as she began her approach and a crescendo of sound as Spanovic took off from the board and flew through the air, readily landing beyond the seven metre-line.
The occasion and the atmosphere propelled Spanovic to one of the greatest series ever recorded in the history of the women’s long jump which was capped by a distance which hadn’t been produced indoors so far this century.
Spanovic’s ability to perform in front of expectant home audiences was already demonstrated after winning a street meeting in Belgrade at the end of 2016 with a national record of 7.10m. Her big-time temperament was also thoroughly proven having won medals in eight successive major championships prior to the 2017 European Indoor Championships, her run of success beginning with a bronze at the 2013 World Championships.
Spanovic was therefore naturally at her imperious best in Belgrade, three times sailing beyond her previous national record to deafening cheers each time: 7.16m in the second round, 7.17m in the fourth round and 7.24m in the third round.
Her winning mark moved Spanovic to third on the world indoor all-time list behind Galina Chistyakova (7.30m) and Heike Drechsler (7.37m) and was the longest mark recorded indoors since Chistyakova jumped 7.30m in 1989, one year before Spanovic was born.
The noise inside the arena on the third day of the championships was such that Kevin Mayer, who was competing in the heptathlon pole vault on the same side of the stadium at the same time as the women's long jump, jokingly covered his ears in anticipation of the crowd’s reaction as they watched the scoreboard for confirmation of Spanovic’s huge third round distance.
Spanovic also landed far in excess of the seven metre-line with her sixth attempt but with the gold medal safely assured, the Serbian star leaned back in the sandpit - arms outstretched in celebration - before embarking on the most cherished victory lap of her career so far, soaking up the adulation as well as the three-syllable chants of ‘I-va-na!’
“It was really important for me to perform well today. I enjoyed every minute of competing in front of this home crowd. The people were amazing and I am really glad that I could give them this gold medal,” said Spanovic reflecting on her second European indoor title.
Spanovic won the world indoor title in Birmingham the following year before returning from injury in March 2019 to land her third successive European indoor long jump title in Glasgow where she became the first athlete to win three successive titles in the event since Drechsler in 1988.
Spanovic’s focus has now shifted to her fourth Olympics in Tokyo next summer but just beyond that lies the 2022 World Indoor Championships in Belgrade. Spanovic has already said this could be her farewell competition and she has hinted she might be able to reproduce her heroics from three years ago in front of her home audience.
“I don’t know what to expect but I’m pretty sure with all the years of experience, I think I can deliver something similar,” she said.