Zagreb, September 12, 2017 - On the occasion of 25th anniversary of the Croatian athletes’ first appearance at the Summer Olympics under their own Croatian flag in Barcelona in 1992, the Croatian Olympic Committee (HOO) hosted the occasional celebration with the members of the first Croatian Olympic delegation headed by the then director of the Croatian Olympic Committee, Marijan Malović.
The invitation of the host, Croatian Olympic Committee’s President Zlatko Mateša, was responded by most of the 41 athletes, including the most successful Croatian tennis player of all time and one of the best Croatian athletes at all, Goran Ivanišević, who was also the first Croatian flag-bearer at the Barcelona Olympics. "I am honored to be one of the first to pave the way to the brilliant generations of Croatian athletes", said Ivanišević, whose bronze medal from Barcelona is the first individual Olympic medal for independent Croatia.
The celebration was joined by members of the professional staffs and among them the Olympic champion, then the coach Petar Skansi who was – along with Aleksandar Petrović, Rato Tvrdić and Boris Lalić - a part of basketball staff in Barcelona. "The only team I had no motivational problems with was the basketball team from Barcelona. I am honored to be able to testify about that time", said Skansi, silver medalist from Mexico City in 1968.
Barcelona was not only a matter of right to perform after the provisional but crucial recognition of the International Olympic Committee just a couple of months prior to the performance on January 17, 1992, but also the opportunity to make the best selection of athletes and achieving the best results despite the completed qualifications for the Olympics.
At the end of February 1992, almost around the corner of the Olympic Games in Barcelona, the then leadership, President and Secretary General of the Croatian Olympic Committee, Antun Vrdoljak and Slavko Podgorelec, and members of the Council were working hard on the project of Croatian athletes’ performance at the Olympics. According to the first Secretary General Podgorelac, the emphasis was put on three key goals; selection of athletes who can achieve high sports results, those who will contribute to the promotion of the Republic of Croatia with their behavior and realize – in spite of difficult material and war conditions in the country - the Olympic Games project extremely rationally.
Antun Vrdoljak, the first President and today honorary member of the Croatian and International Olympic Committee, whose member he was from 1995 until 2012, has a living memory of the times in which he hoped for something "more" than just good result. His impressions still bear the seal of the enthusiasm from the first Olympic performance. "One does not forget that time", said the first President of the Croatian Olympic Committee and added that for the performance in Barcelona, "one should thank the then President of the International Olympic Committee Samaranch, a proven sports friend of Croatian sport and the first honorary member of the Croatian Olympic Committee, dr. Franjo Tuđman, who loved and appreciated Croatian sports and sportsmen immensely. "
Croatian basketball players who easily met the subsequent qualifications entered the finals of the largest sports event - a duel with the legendary unparalleled team of the best NBA professional players, the so-called "Dream Team I" - and won a silver medal. Their team included two NBA Leagued players Dražen Petrović and Stojko Vranković, two international players from the Italian clubs Toni Kukoč and Dino Rađa, ranked among the top Croatian and international basketball names and led by one of the most famous basketball players Dražen Petrović, who tragically died in June 1993.
A minute’s silence was observed as a tribute to Dražen Petrović - after whom the Croatian Olympic Committee named two of its biggest awards presented to young talented athletes - bearer of three Olympic medals, four times best European Basketball Player, player of the strongest league in the world – the NBA League, one of the greatest Croatian basketball players’ role model in whose honor a monument was placed in 1995 in Lausanne in the Park of the Olympic Museum and who was introduced in FIBA's Hall of Fame in Alcobendas (Madrid) in 2007. In 2006, Croatia opened its Museum-Memorial Center, one of the most visited museums in Zagreb on the square named after him.
At the ceremony, the present also recalled the late Matija Ljubek, one of the most successful Croatian Olympians, holder of four Olympic medals, the World's and European Champion with more than 300 medals, leader of the Croatian Olympic Kayaking Team at Barcelona Olympics and Andrija Mijačika, the second Secretary General of the Croatian Olympic Committee and Dražen Mađarević, Secretary of the Croatian Taekwondo Federation, coaches in the Croatian Olympic Taekwondo Team at Barcelona Olympics 1992.
The solemn celebration of the 25th anniversary was held in the presence of a number of former top athletes, sports staff members and officials including members of the Council and Croatian Olympic Committee’s Secretary General Josip Čop with assistants, Secretary of State for Sports and holder of six Olympic medals Janica Kostelić and other members of the Croatian Olympic family. (coc/rj)