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Champions Set Their Sights High At adidas Grand Prix 2011

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New York Blanka Vlašić is accustomed to scaling great heights. But 320 meters/1,050 feet is impressive even for a four-time World Champion who is the #2 high jumper in history.

Vlašić, along with Tyson Gay, Jeremy Wariner and Jessica Ennis, capped off a press conference in advance of Saturday’s adidas Grand Prix with a photo shoot on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Pointing out landmarks and snapping some photos of their own, for a moment on Thursday afternoon the four acted like any other tourists to the Big Apple.

At 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon at Icahn Stadium, however, it will be back to business on the sixth stop of the Samsung Diamond League circuit. For each athlete in the meet, that means something a little different:

“Toward the end of last year I started executing a lot, and my times started dropping,” said Wariner, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Champion at 400 meters who finished 2010 ranked #1 in the world. “I’m hoping to be back in the 44s.”

“I’m really excited to be here,” said four-time Paralympic gold medalist Oscar Pistorius, on his quest for an Olympic “A” qualifying time in the 400. “Motivating me is the chance to be able to run against the likes of these guys,” he said, gesturing toward Wariner. When he lined up against able-bodied athletes for the first time in 2007, he said, he felt he hadn’t really earned a spot in the race. Having run 45.61 earlier this season, however – good enough for the World Championships “B” standard – he now feels he belongs, and a personal best on Saturday will only cement that.

“I always run with my heart,” said Gay, who calls himself 75 percent fit as he works through a right-hip issue but nonetheless ran a world-leading 9.79-second 100-meters last weekend. No. 2 is Steve Mullings, at 9.80, and he’s in the race. “I know I’m going to have to step up my game to another level,” said Gay. That level would be fast, indeed.

Vlašić, undefeated in the Diamond League last year and named IAAF Female Athlete of the Year, took a rare indoor season off. She has eased into the outdoor season so far but is rounding back into her usual form just in time to make her U.S. debut.

“This is my first time jumping here,” the Croatian superstar told dozens of journalists on the first day of pre-meet press conferences. “I will see how the time difference affects me. My first target is to stay awake. My second is to give everything I can.”

Whether that will result in her first jump of 2 meters/6 feet, 6.75 inches this season, time will tell. It could well be much higher. “I’m very confident that great results will come,” she said. “I’m not training anymore to jump 2 meters; I’m training to jump higher.”

Given that Vlašić has jumped higher in each of her three meets so far this year – all victories – fans might be lucky enough to see The Dance, a celebration that is the superstar’s own.

“Sometimes even I’m surprised,” she says. “The energy blinds me. In private life I’m more of a shy person than I am on the field. Sports is not only about results; it’s about a show. People want to see you cry, smile, scream. There’s too much noise in the stadium, so [fans] can’t hear. You have to show it.”

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Written by jamarch