A world-class long jumper with a world-class name – and the work ethic to match. She strikes a fine gym selfie pose, too. Say hello to Ivana Spanovic, Serbia’s world bronze medallist who has her mind fixed on toppling the great Brittney Reese.

As any clued-up athletics fan will tell you, the transition from junior to senior athlete is one of our sport’s toughest endeavours. Just ask Ivana Spanovic.

A stellar talent as an age-group athlete, she picked up European junior and world youth silver medals, and then won the world junior title in 2008, at the age of 17. Her step up to the next level wasn’t easy.

A broken foot bone robbed her of the chance to compete at the Daegu 2011 World Championships. She had placed eighth at the previous year’s European champs.

In 2012 Spanovic failed to qualify for the final at the Europeans, and wound up 11th with a modest best of 6.35m at the London Olympics.


Up in the air: London 2012 was part of a difficult season for Spanovic.

Assessing her performances last year, she reached a stark conclusion.

“I realised the girls I was competing with in finals were much better than me because I didn’t have the mental strength,” says Spanovic, 23. “I realised I was both close to my goals but also far away. I was not in a good shape mentally.”

The striking Serb then set about finding a sports psychologist to fix her mind. “I realised I needed to listen to myself more than the coach,” she says.

Spanovic needed to show greater independence in the heat of battle.

On Sunday 11th August last year, in the white-hot furnace of the Luzhniki Stadium, she landed the leap of her life. Her fifth round jump of 6.82m, a Serbian record, secured a bronze medal over Belarus’ Volha Sudareva (thanks to a superior second-best jump).

“After my fifth round jump I put a jacket over my head.”

“Almost every time in a junior championships somebody would come past me late in the competition, but this time luck was on my side. It was the first time I’d experienced that moment of winning a medal as senior.”

Taking after her mother Vesna, a Yugoslav sprint champion, Spanovic always had the genes to succeed, started track and field aged just seven. She chanced her spikes at many different disciplines but quickly identified her main strengths.

Spanovic made her major international debut at the 2005 World Youth Championships in Marrakech, having just turned 15. She jumped 5.97m for 17th and ran 12.28 in the 100m heats. Two weeks later she set a national junior record of 6.43m at a Balkan International meet in Greece.

“This was the first time I realised I could be the best in the world, because I jumped further than the gold medal winner had leapt at the world youth championships [Arantxa King of Bermuda had won gold in Marrakech, with 6.39m].”

In 2008, she became the first Serbian to win world youth gold, but it took more than five years to taste major success as a senior.

Has life changed much after her Moscow medal?

“It has changed a lot. I haven’t changed, but everything around me has changed. I’ve really enjoyed the free time I’ve had,” says Spanovic, who likes to compete with long polished nails.

“Here in Serbia I took part in a ladies car racing challenge featuring singers and other celebrities, and I won. I love speed. I was so happy.”

Now a familiar face on Serbian TV, Spanovic devotes much of her time away from training to running the gym she owns in Novi Sad: Serbia’s second-biggest city and home to the enterprising young athlete. She’s also studying for a degree in architecture.


@IvanaSpaNOv1c: “Back in the office :) love!” (23-Sept-13)

Athletics will always be her main focus though, as evidenced by the mere fortnight she took for an end of season break, which included a holiday to Croatia with her boyfriend. She was back on the grind by early October.

Success in 2013 has given her a taste for more. Currently training in Dubai with her coach Goran Obradovic, she plans “five or six” indoor meetings in the new year before targeting the 2014 World Indoor Championships in Sopot. Her major target for the outdoor season is gold at the Zurich 2014 European Championships.

“I need to work more on my speed and the stability in my take-off foot,” says Spanovic, still breathless for the challenge.

Despite setting a national record of 6.82m en route to bronze in Moscow, the next step forward presents a huge challenge.

She insists the depth in quality of the women’s long jump is stronger than for some time, based on that fact that ten women jumped beyond 6.90m in 2013. And at the top of that the pile sits Brittney Reese, the double Olympic and five-times world champion (three outdoors and two indoors). She is unbeaten in major championship competition for five years.

So how can Spanovic stop the powerful US jumper?

“Well, I need to jump seven metres as quickly as possible, that is the only way. She [Reese] really is a spectacular jumper. Yet the girl I really admire is Darya Klishina. She is technically the best long jumper,” says Spanovic, who lost to her at the world youth champs in 2007.

“I love to watch videos of her, and the likes of Janay DeLoach and Shara Proctor, too. There are a lot of good jumpers.”