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Heidelberg sophomore Jessica Blanks, the European shot-put champion, has her eyes on the discus gold medal this season. She is shown preparing to throw the discus during a practice session Tuesday at Heidelberg.
Heidelberg sophomore Jessica Blanks, the European shot-put champion, has her eyes on the discus gold medal this season. She is shown preparing to throw the discus during a practice session Tuesday at Heidelberg. (Rusty Bryan / S&S)

HEIDELBERG, Germany -- How in the world did Heidelberg sophomore Jessica Blanks manage to put the shot nearly 2 inches farther in a cold rain here Saturday than she did in winning the European championship in the event last May?

Lots of weight training?

“I don’t lift weights,” the 16-year-old said on a sunny Tuesday afternoon that couldn’t have been more different from the chill and damp of last week’s season-opening meet.

Industrial quantities of offseason conditioning and speed work?

“I hate to run,” Blanks said.

Intensive attention to footwork and release and all the other arcane details of the weight events at practice?

“We don’t do all that much at practice,” she said with a smile as she chatted with friends.

Years spent mastering the intricacies of the event?

“I started when I was a freshman,” Blanks said.

Specialized coaching?

“Coach [Ron] Smith actually gets in the ring and shows us what to do,” Blanks said in finally fielding a question she could answer in the affirmative. “He tells us what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong.”

Anything else that might explain how she tossed a personal-best 34 feet, 3 inches in a season-opening meet?

“Yeah,” Blanks said. “That Johnson girl was there.”

“That Johnson girl” is Wiesbaden junior Althea Johnson, second to Blanks in the Europeans by some 28 inches. Blanks was determined to have the pattern continue Saturday.

“I wanted to beat her,” Blanks said, her jaw fixed.

Blanks did, again, 34-3 to 30-10.5 for Johnson.

That’s the key to Blanks, according to her coach.

“It’s all about her attitude,” Heidelberg weights coach Smith said. “She’s determined to be the best in Europe. Starting out at 34 in the shot shows how serious she is.”

The competitive boost to Blanks’ game doesn’t begin and end with Johnson. Family members and even Mother Nature get her competitive juices flowing.

“I like throwing in the rain,” she said. “It makes me work harder to get a good mark.”

And the family member?

“I wanted to beat my sister’s mark,” Blanks said of her early days in the event, competing against sister Deandra Rodgers, a senior.

Blanks, who also plays basketball, said she took up the shot last year at the urging of Heidelberg shot/discus performer Margaret Yakana.

“She had a firm handshake, so I told her she should come out for the team,” Yakana joked on Tuesday. That handshake agreement was all it took to get her started.

“People were surprised,” Blanks said about her early efforts at the shot put. “They said, ‘Whoa, she’s going to beat her sister.’ ”

That mission accomplished, the question becomes, “What’s next?”

“I’d like to go 37 or 38 feet in the shot (the DODDS-Europe record is 43-1.5), and get first place in the discus,” Blanks said.

Blanks, who tossed the discus 94 feet Saturday, registered 100-4 in May in placing third in the Europeans. The two girls who finished ahead of her on the discus podium are gone this time around, but Blanks already has a competitive target in mind.

“I know where the marks are,” she concluded. “I just have to aim at them.”

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