For Nevena Ignjatovic, participating in the Olympics represents the pinnacle of athletic achievement and the opportunity to bond with colleagues from the region.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 18/02/14
Serbian skier Nevena Ignjatovic is a two-time Olympian. [Olympic Committee of Serbia]
Nevena Ignjatovic made her Olympic debut as a 19-year-old at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. In 2014, the Serbian alpine skier returns to sport's biggest stage more experienced, more decorated and more outspoken about the need for improved training facilities.
One of eight Serbian athletes competing in Sochi, Ignjatovic is eager to continue her recent momentum. On December 20th, she won the slalom at the 2013 Winter Universiade, an Olympic-style event in Trentino, Italy, that included participants from more than 30 nations. On Tuesday (February 18th) she was to begin competition in the giant slalom.
"In my first Olympic Games in Vancouver, I achieved 32nd position in the slalom and 40th in giant slalom. So I'm definitely more experienced now than then and I'll do my best to reach the top 30," Ignjatovic told SETimes.
She added that participating in the Vancouver Olympics is one of her most beautiful memories and was a positive influence on her career.
"For the last four years I passed through so many things and I hope I'll use that experience in the upcoming Olympic Games. For me, Vancouver was a wonderful trophy and I hope Sochi will be the same," she said.
Among her experiences since the 2010 Games, Ignjatovic and fellow Serbian skier Milanko Petrovic joined forces to ask the Ski Association of Serbia to provide more training resources. Ignjatovic and Petrovic, who also won a gold medal at the 2013 Winter Universiade, issued a joint statement saying the association had invested only "minimal funds" in their training. The association responded by saying that additional funds were not available.
In order to support skiing and ensure better conditions for training and future European and global competitions, private company MK Mountain Resort and public company Ski Serbia signed contracts with Ignjatovic to help offset her travel and equipment costs.
Ignjatovic told SETimes she started with skiing when she was 6. Since then, she has won 200 medals on national and international levels.
"One of my favourites is the gold medal from the Universiade in 2013," she said.
Ignjatovic said she sees the Olympics as a chance for gathering and co-operating with other athletes from Southeast Europe.
"I had a chance to take up and co-operate with colleagues from BiH, Croatia and Slovenia. Olympic Games are an extra reason to make our relations much better," she said.
Ignjatovic emphasised her friendship and co-operation with BiH counterpart Zana Novakovic, who also made her Olympic debut four years ago in Vancouver.
"We have been training together a couple of years already, and we are very happy because this will be the second Olympic Games in our careers," Ignjatovic said.
Serbian Olympic Committee officials, citizens and business sector representatives, support Ignjatovic's efforts.
"Nevena debuted in Vancouver, and has had significant progress since then. I believe that her previous Olympic experience will be significant, but not only her, but also for all other members of the Team of Serbia," Damir Stajner, head of the Serbian Olympic Committee's Mission for Sochi, told SETimes.
Dragoslav Stevanovic, 50, a doctor from Belgrade, said he supports the Serbian team and the affirmation of sport spirit that comes at the Olympics.
"It is important to develop the spirit of sport, especially here, on these grounds which are burdened with poverty, the consequences of war, politics … The Olympic Games are a great chance for all our athletes to meet colleagues from the whole world and the region, to get better knowledge about them but also to present to them our country in the right manner," Dragoslav told SETimes.
"I can easily remember 1984 and the Winter Games in Sarajevo. It was Yugoslavia's time and we were so proud to have such an important world event in our country and a chance to show our best. I still see in the Olympic Games in the same way -- as a chance for gathering, fair competition and presentation of your country."
He added that Ignjatovic's work and effort represent Serbia in the best way.
"I admire her as well as all others for their endurance and persistence and willingness to work, for themselves and for all of us, despite tough conditions for sport development in Serbia," he said.
"Participation in the Olympic Games is, definitely, all athletes' wish. It is the biggest sport competition on the world and has special beauty," Ignjatovic said.
Ignjatovic says the Olympics are a chance to co-operate with colleagues from throughout the region. How can the spirit of co-operation be extended after the Games conclude?