The Toughest Job Ever
Between 60 and 70 Slovene athletes are expected to take part in the Olympic games this summer in London. They face a tough challenge - to increase the tally of Slovene medals which currently stands at 15.
As things stood when we closed for press, Slovene athletes will compete in 15 sports: swimming, athletics, kayaking, canoeing, cycling, judo, rowing, sailing, shooting, tennis, gymnastics, table-tennis, badminton, taekwondo and the triathlon.
It has never been easy to win medals but it seems that London will be the most difficult in this regard as the economic crisis has also taken its toll on sport. There have always been a couple of clear favourites such as the rowing duo Čop/Špik in Sydney 2000 or hammer thrower, Primož Kozmus, in Beijing 2008, this is not the case for London 2012. This of course doesn’t mean that the team will be waving a white flag. In an ideal situation, there are up to a dozen athletes capable of getting medals.
Primož Kozmus, who took a sabbatical after winning Olympic gold in Beijing, has been struggling to make a full comeback. His results so far this year have been disappointing, he has fired his coach but he is a fighter and he should never been counted out. The kayak/canoe team are all capable of top results but two names stand out: double world champion Peter Kauzer in slalom and Špela Ponomarenko, silver medallist from this year’s European championship, in the flat water sprint. After winning a silver medal in Beijing, Sara Isakovič moved to the USA and focused on studying at Berkeley University, she hasn’t competed much during this time and so it is difficult to judge her form. However, with her winner’s mentality, no-one should be surprised if she once again excels when it matters the most. Vasilij Žbogar has been similarly quiet since Beijing. He swapped the laser class in which he won a silver medal in 2008, for the finn class but it remains to be seen how he has adapted. The judo team includes two former Olympic medallists, Urška Žolnir and Lucija Polavder but Raša Sraka and Rok Drakšič also rank amongst the world’s best. Katarina Srebotnik has enjoyed some success in professional tennis in doubles, including winning Wimbledon and will also aim high in London, but for now, it is still unclear who her partner will be. The veteran rower, Iztok Čop, 40, and his partner, Luka Špik, haven’t given up the idea of winning another Olympic medal. While their results in the World Cup have been respectable, a medal would come as a surprise.
For shooter Rajmond Debevec, 49, the London Olympics will be his eighth. His first was in 1984 in Los Angeles as a member of the Yugoslav team. However, the overall record for active sportsmen goes to Latvian shooter Afanasijs Kuzmins, with nine appearances. After Debevec is rower Iztok Čop, who has participated in every Olympics since Slovenia’s independence in 1991.
A Short History
After Slovenia gained independence in 1991, the Olympics served as an important tool to promote the new country and boost national pride and self-confidence. The new era began successfully with two bronze medals in rowing. Iztok Čop and Denis Žvegelj became the first Slovene Olympic medallists in the coxless pair while the coxless four added another medal. The 1996 games in Atlanta brought even more success. Brigita Bukovec was second in the 100 metres hurdles and only narrowly missed the gold medal. Canoist, Andraž Vehovar, also won silver. Bukovec’s and Vehovar’s medals were the first individual Olympic medals for Slovenia. Sydney 2000 brought the long awaited gold medals. Rajmond Debevec in shooting and Čop/Špik in rowing became the heroes. Athens yielded four medals, three bronze (Urška Žolnir, Vasilij Žbogar and Jolanda Čeplak) and one silver (Čop/Špik). Beijing four years ago was the most successful in medal terms with five. Primož Kozmus took gold in the hammer throw, Sailor, Vasilij Žbogar and swimmer. Sara Isakovič, both won silver while Rajmond Debevec and Lucija Polavder took third place in shooting and judo respectively. All five will defend their medals in London. Slovenia now has 15 summer Olympic medals since independence: three gold, five silver and seven bronze.
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