'Child of Jahorina' returns to Winter Olympics


Zana Novakovic, an alpine skier from Sarajevo, is proud to be a BiH Olympian for the second time.

By Drazen Remikovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 17/02/14


Zana Novakovic is representing BiH in the Olympics for the second time. [Zana Novakovic]

Zana Novakovic wasn't born yet when her home city of Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. But a few years later, she made her first foray into skiing in the mountains that surround the city.

Four years ago she carried Bosnia and Herzegovina's flag in the opening ceremonies at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, and now she is returning to the Olympics and will compete this week in Sochi.

Novakovic recalled receiving her first set of skis from her neighbours. She was delighted when she first stepped on them and immediately expressed a desire to join a ski club.

But as she was getting started in the sport, the bloody civil war, which would last four years, was beginning to rage BiH. Twenty years after the war, BiH is still a deeply divided country, and although politics is present in all spheres of life, Novakovic said she believes that sport is a point where the differences can be overcome.

"Unfortunately, the beginning of the war is closely tied to the beginning of my sports. Nevertheless, I managed to overcome all the difficulties and consequences of this period. I think that my great love toward sport prevailed that I am still here today. I think that sport always overruns the barriers. Bosnia and Herzegovina is definitely a country of diversity but my family raised me in the way that people should not be recognised by ethnicity. I am proud of my origins but I also respect all other nations," Novakovic told SETimes.

Novakovic has participated in a growing list of international competitions. She is a multi-time national champion in the slalom and giant slalom and has competed in 14 World Cups and been on the winner's podium in 64 International Ski Federation races across Europe, in addition to her Olympic appearance four years ago.

In June, the government of Serbia gave citizenship to 10 athletes from Republika Srpska and announced that those athletes would be eligible to represent Serbia in international competitions. Novakovic was one of the 10 athletes, but she decided to continue competing under the flag of BiH.

''It was a very nice gesture of the Serbian government. It's nice when someone recognises your results and wishes to support you. But, I am a child of Jahorina [mountain] and for 22 years I spent skiing on the slopes of this mountain. It wasn't always easy but there were some beautiful moments that ultimately prevailed for me to stay here, where I am now," Novakovic said.

She expressed hope that the strong commitment of BiH athletes will be met by an equally strong commitment from the government in its approach to sport institutions.

"Although there is a certain will for it, the investments in sport remains at a very poor level," she told SETimes.

Said Fazlagic, chief of the mission of athletes from BiH who are competing in Sochi, said Novakovic has tremendous perseverance and persistence but she and other athletes need additional support.

"For two years she made a jump of 300 places in the world rankings list of skiers. However, lack of funds prevents her and other top BiH athletes from achieving better results. If we were some normal state which invested in its athletes, they would achieve much better results. It is a miracle that these people are accomplishing this in this situation," Fazlagic told SETimes.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs, which is one of three ministries that is in charge of sport, didn't provide any funds for the five BiH athletes competing in Sochi.

Due to poor support from the state, last year four skiers left the Ski Federation of BiH and joined neighbouring countries that offered better training conditions.

"There is no strategy on the development of the sport. There's lots of administration, it is difficult to obtain funds which are already very small. We are satisfied the results which we are achieving in such difficult conditions," Jelena Dojcinovic, secretary general of the Ski Federation BiH, told SETimes.

Suvad Dzafic, assistant minister for sport of BiH, said the government is trying to help the athletes as much as it can, but it has limited resources.

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"Last year we allocated 520,000 euros for sport activities. We wished that this figure is higher, but unfortunately, the financial situation is such that in all segments of society is difficult," Dzafic told SETimes.

Novakovic graduated from the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Pale. She is currently a third-year student at the Faculty of Physical Education and Sports in East Sarajevo. In addition to skiing, she also loves dancing.

"As a child, I trained a long time both dancing and skiing. Though eventually skiing prevailed, I continue to use every opportunity to dance," she said.

How can Novakovic’s example of respecting all nations and ethnicities be promoted as a positive example for youth? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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