Zagreb, October 28, 2018 - The best Croatian swimmer of all time, Duje Draganja, was officially inducted into the Hall of Fame at the California’s Berkeley University in the night from Friday to Saturday in Croatian time. The ceremony was held in Oakland and on Saturday afternoon Draganja was introduced to the supporters in front of 60,000 spectators at a college football game at California Memorial Stadium.
Draganja, winner of Olympic silver for Croatia at 50 M Freestyle in Athens in 2004, won for Berkeley eight NCAA National championships, 12 conference titles and his score in men’s 50 M Freestyle is the second fastest time in the University’s history.
Duje Draganja was born in Split on February 27, 1983. Even before he started the elementary school, the parents enrolled him in POŠK swimming school after they noted his fascination with water. Croatian representative since 1999j, he was swimming for Split’s POŠK from 1998 to 2002 when he went to Rijeka and became a member of Primorje. As of 2007 he performed for Zagreb’s Dubrava.
He was the captain of the National Junior Team. He has won seven gold medals at the European Junior Championships and holds two Junior World Records and four Junior European Records, as well as numerous Croatian records. He studied at the University of Berkeley in California. In the NCAA Finals in New York, he swam 100 meters Freestyle in the 25-meter pool in 46.64, breaking thus the 10-year-old Alexander Popov’s European record.
He participated at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and those in Athens in 2004, where he swam in the finals of 50 and 100 M Freestyle and 100 M Butterfly. In all three disciplines he broke the Croatian record and in 50 M Freestyle he has not only won the Olympic silver but also achieved the sixth result of all time, 21.94.
It is a constantly rotating image, the image that lasts. 50 M Freestyle finals. Twenty seconds of madness, fear, suffering and hope. Especially the fear. Swimming Formula 1, you're watching, shaking, you have no right to blink, if you blink in the wrong moment you miss everything. You know the medal is there, but still you're not sure. Then the traffic light lit up. Duje Draganja is the second. While the Croatian journalists were jumping high, the Americans commented unmistakably: “These are the Croats for sure". For them, Olympic medal is a normal thing. Duje Draganja failed to score gold for one hundredth of a second. The night of winning the Olympic silver in Athens was a night to remember. Everyone celebrated a Split youngster who competed in all the three swimming events’ finals.
In the greatest moment of his career, Duje Draganja said: "Let's say no one was expecting my success, but I did. I knew it was possible. At the beginning of the year I announced that possibility. I will not say I was sure, but I believed in the finals of 100 M Butterfly. Here I made the biggest breakthrough, I advanced the most. I knew I could swim well, but a 50 M race was clean roulette. The difference between the first and the eighth is twenty-odd seconds. The smallest thing can be decisive. It made me very tired, but one must go on. This is just one of the ultimate goals of my career. Water always attracted me. When I was little, I would jump into the sea. Either winter or summer, doesn’t matter. Why exactly water? Maybe I'm a little wild, too lively or maybe there was no ball nearby".
Duje Draganja participated at the Beijing Olympics 2008. He was presented the State Award, the Order of Danica Hrvatska (Croatian: Red Danice hrvatske; lit. "Order of the Croatian Morning star) medal with the figure of Franjo Bučar and received the State Award for Sport Franjo Bučar in 2004. In the same year, in several polls conducted by newspaper houses, he was declared the Best Athlete of Croatia and Dalmatia.
In 1999, the Croatian Olympic Committee proclaimed him the Greatest Hope of Croatian Sports and he was the Most Successful Croatian Athlete in 2004 and 2006 according to the selection of the Croatian Olympic Committee. In August 2006, Duje Draganja won a silver medal in 50 M Dolphin discipline at the 28th European Swimming Championships in Budapest. Draganja swam his section in 23.62 seconds, which is the new Croatian record. He won a silver medal in 2007 at the European Championship in Hungary in 50 M Freestyle.
At FINA’s 2008 World Short Course Swimming Championships in the United Kingdom, Draganja won a gold medal in 50 M Freestyle and set a new world record by swimming 50 meters in 20 seconds and 81 hundredths, joining thus the three great swimmers who managed to finish that discipline in less than 21 seconds.
At the 2009 European Short Course Swimming Championships in Istanbul, he won a silver medal in 50 M Freestyle and gold medal in 100 M Medley and silver medal in 4x50 M Freestyle Relay.
At the age of 21, Duje Draganja won what many were just dreaming of. He came right up to the top of Olympus, the roof of sports and sports success. This great swimmer achieved more than just a great career and all Duje’s achievements resulted from his great efforts and hard work. (COC/JG)
The Croatian Olympic Committee congratulates the great Olympian Duje Draganja on being inducted into the Hall of Fame of the prestigious California’s University of Berkeley!