Jana Koščak, a new athletic rising star

 Jana Koščak is the newest rising star in the athletic scene.  She is the European champion of 2022, the reigning national champion of Croatia, has broken more than a dozen national records, and is the double Balkan champion. Recently, in February of 2023, she broke the world record in pentathlon in her age division. As of writing, this remains the only pentathlon world record held by Croatia. At the same time, Jana is an outstanding student at Prva gimnazija Varaždin, Croatia. So what is it like to be a successful young athlete and a committed grammar school student? Jana discusses her sports career, struggles and triumphs, motivation, private life, future plans, and more.

Early passion for athletics

Jana began her journey with athletics when she was just seven years old. Even before she found her passion for athletics, she tried a variety of different sports, ranging from swimming and gymnastics to handball and football, none of which she truly ended up enjoying. She sought interest in the sport on an occasion when she and her father were picking up her older sister from athletics practice.

“One day, I was driving in the car with my dad and we were supposed to pick my sister up from her athletics training. I stayed a bit longer at the stadium in our city, and I really fell in love with the sport. I started training athletics, too, and here I am 10 or 11 years later, still at the same stadium.”

Besides her sister originally drawing her to it, she likes that athletics is an individual sport and that she doesn’t have to rely on others for victory. When she makes a mistake, she sees it as her own fault and doesn’t have anyone else to blame.

Being a high school student and a committed athlete

Jana starts her day like most high schoolers. She spends the majority of her mornings and noons attending classes. They often end up stretching past 2 pm since she regularly takes additional lessons for advanced students in chemistry and biology. After school, she spends 2-3 hours every day at the stadium training. Once home, her work continues as she does homework and studies a lot to keep her grades up. She noted that sometimes, especially before a big test, she pulls all-nighters to get a good score. 

All that work unfortunately leaves Jana with little to no free time. Apart from her regular schoolwork, Jana is very active across multiple school subjects, going so far as to compete in county competitions in subjects she particularly likes such as geography. She said that she wishes she could spend more time with friends and lead a more active social life, but at the moment, she simply lacks time.

When asked about her day as an athlete, Jana shared that she does have some special rules she follows due to her training and dieting regime. While her dieting plan isn’t very rigorous, she still doesn’t eat any sweets after 7 pm. Her parents do most of the cooking, so she isn’t too worried about what she eats as long as it’s meeting her dietary requirements. 

Sports achievements

Most often, Jana will compete in pentathlon and heptathlon. Pentathlon takes only one day and consists of 60-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump, and 800 meters run. Heptathlon takes two days and consists of 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, and 200 meters run on the first day, and long jump, javelin throw, and 800 meters run on the second day.

“If I had to choose one favorite event, that would probably be the high jump or javelin. I’m currently dealing with elbow issues, so I can’t really do javelin. I hope it will heal by the time the European championship in August comes.”

So far, Jana has found the European Championship of 2022 to be her most difficult challenge. She had spent the two previous years preparing for the competition, and even then she found it quite stressful. Regardless, she still managed to score a major win. When asked about her recent world record, Jana said that she wasn’t expecting to beat it that day. That particular competition was her first of the year, and it took her by surprise.

“I jumped 1 meter and 90 centimeters and that was my personal best. Blanka’s record was actually 1 meter and 84 centimeters, so I jumped 6 centimeters higher. In the high jump that’s a lot. ”

“When I first tried 1,90, the bar fell down. I knew that I could do it, because I had jumped 1,88 before that, and it was a really good jump. When I got to the 2nd attempt I was like “You have to do it now! Come on!”. I just had to repeat the jump from 1,88. It happened, and it was great! It was just an amazing moment. The whole arena was cheering. ”

Only a few weeks later, she ended up jumping up to 1,91 meters, which, at the moment of writing, remains the current indoor record as of now. In the future, she hopes that she’ll be also able to break the outdoor record, which is still held by Blanka Vlašić at 1,93 meters.


And what does she do when she isn’t feeling motivated? Well, Jana shared that she feels unmotivated now and then, especially when she’s exhausted. Her best remedy for such emotions is to remember how she felt in her best moments, for example, when breaking national records or winning competitions.

“It’s really an amazing feeling when you do your best and win or break a record. That feeling drives you through so much pain, anger, and all the hardships of training”

While sports require a high level of physical ability and dedication, they can also be very straining mentally. Jana finds that it all made her a stronger person, especially competing.

She also shared that sometimes, when going to sleep before a competition, she thinks about the moment in which she has to get out of the block. Visualizing that moment helps her reduce pressure and anxiety. In high jump events, an athlete gets several attempts, so it’s less of a burden. On the contrary, in running competitions, there is only one opportunity once the gun goes off, so she finds it the most stressful. The sport also made her a lot more of a dedicated person.

Family and friends as support

In terms of a support system, Jana finds that her family and friends help out the most. Her father is an ex-athlete, but also her coach, so he understands the panic and fear that comes with competing. They always travel together and he often reassures her and helps her work out her anxiety.

“The day before my race at the European championship, I was actually so nervous, I couldn’t sleep. I knocked on my dad’s hotel room door and we talked about the race the whole night. That just really made me calmer and I was able to perform my best, even though I was a bit tired.”

Her dad always gives her simple advice, which is to breathe, close her eyes before the gun, and not focus on other competitors. On surface, that sounds selfish, but once one starts looking around, there’s a high chance of losing focus and confidence, so she always follows his words.

Since her sister is also an athlete that competes in similar disciplines, the question of possible rivalry comes up. Jana does not see her sister as a rival, she sees her as more of a support. They train together, and when times are hard, they always push and encourage each other. When she includes two other boys whom they train with, plus her dad, she gets an amazing team that always uplifts one another.

Her friends are also always by her side and congratulate her immediately after a win. They also often make something for her and surprise her when she comes back to school. Jana is very thankful for both her family and friends. Even teachers are by her side. She said that she finds them very understanding when it comes to needing an extension for an assignment or other help due to her sports career.

Being a world-traveller

On a more light-hearted note, competing also brings forth the opportunity to travel. Her favorite place she’s visited so far is Jerusalem, especially the Old Town. Some of the other places she’s been to include Turkey, Estonia, Italy, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Romania, and many others. The most recent competition she attended was in Tallinn, Estonia. The countries Jana really likes are Portugal and Spain because they are sunny and warm. As for sightseeing, that depends on the competition she is attending. If it’s 3 or more days, then she’ll go and explore the places she is in. At shorter ones, she focuses on competitions.

Jana has made many friends during her international travels. She has a particularl strong bonds with girls from Sweden, Israel, Germany, and Hungary. They keep in touch almost every day and she believes that they’ll still be friends, even when they stop competing.  That’s, according to her, the best thing sport brings.

Athletics and education in the future

Aside from breaking records left and right, we might be able to see Jana at the Olympics soon. Her long-term goal is to compete there soon. While she still doesn’t have official confirmation, she believes that there is a chance that she will be competing in Paris 2024. If not, and if she continues athletics, she also has a high chance for Los Angeles 2028. The category she would like to compete in would either be pentathlon or heptathlon. 

Other goals Jana has, include both short-term and long-term ones. Her primary goal at the moment is becoming the European champion in the under-20 age division, given how she is still in the under-18 one. She hopes to win a medal, regardless which one. Another short-term goal for her is winning the European youth Olympic Games, which will be held this year in Maribor, Slovenia. She already won that competition last year, when it was in Slovakia, so she hopes to win again.

Regardless of her sports career, Jana doesn’t let her education suffer. After finishing high school, she’ll most likely pursue a college education. The academic fields Jana is thinking of studying are geography and chemistry.  Offers from some of the USA’s top schools are already pouring onto her doorstep. A lot of her future is still up in the air and depends on her sports career in the following 2 years. 

When asked if there is anything that may disrupt her career, or makes her quit, Jana told us that that hopefully won’t be the case. However, there are some instances in which she could see that happening.

“I think once a sport becomes a job, that’s when most people give up. When you start thinking about athletics or any other sport financially, that’s when you stop doing it for fun. I don’t want that to happen. I want to do athletics because it’s fun and it makes me happy. I will keep on going as long as I’m happy with it. Once it all becomes too much, then I’ll probably stop.”

The next competition Jana will take part in is on the 21st of May in Greece. It is very important to her, as gaining a medal increases her points and the chance for competing in the Olympics.

Written by Eleonora Kramer, Prva gimnazija Varaždin, Croatia.

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