30 years of sporting achievements
The Slovenian people have a close connection to sports. The extraordinary success of Slovenian sport in the past 30 years has helped promote our country internationally and put it on the world map. Our athletes have made their dreams come true at world and European championships, in the Champions League, at the Olympic Games, at various top-level competitions around the globe… and at the same time we also have some of the biggest stars in the world. Who doesn't know Tina Maze, Jan Oblak, Anže Kopitar, Luka Dončič, Primož Roglič or Tadej Pogačar?
Moving fills us with energy and gives us a boost in reaching our recreational as well as professional goals. We are convinced that this is part of the code in our DNA, and this is probably why we excel at sports. The entire country is one big sports venue, and the natural conditions for such activities are truly amazing. And as much as we love doing sports, we are also passionate sports fans. Being distinguished by their sporting way of cheering and extremely positive energy, Slovenian sports fans have carried the name of their country around the world.
We should also note that top-level sports in Slovenia did not begin with the gaining of independence. After all, Slovenia is the home of the oldest skis in Central Europe, and the first ski jumpers honed their skills in the territory of Slovenia, the first climbing enthusiasts conquered Slovenian alpine peaks and broke new ground in Slovenian climbing, thus leaving a significant mark on world alpinism.
Our athletes first competed at the Olympic Games under the Slovenian flag in February 1992 in Albertville, France, slightly more than half a year after Slovenia gained independence. Although winter sports are the most typical for Slovenes our athletes returned home without any medals, but richer with valuable experience. In the summer of the same year, all eyes were on Barcelona where our athletes won two bronze medals in rowing, a discipline whose cradle is in beautiful Bled. The rowing legends Iztok Čop and Luk Špik are Slovenia’s the most frequent medal winners, who won the country first Olympic gold together with the shooter Rajmond Debevec on the same day at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
Slovenia has also been justly excited about the achievements of its sports heroes on athletics tracks, in swimming pools, at various snow venues, on ice rinks, pitches, courts, judo mats, and more. In fact, Slovenes have been attracting attention in an extremely broad and varied range of sports disciplines for the last 30 years. We excel at judo, motocross, cross-country skiing and ski jumping, sports climbing, basketball and ice hockey, football, snowboarding and gymnastics.
Exceptional sporting results across a wide variety of sporting venues
It seems impossible that a nation of just two million could achieve such success in various different sports. We are likely the only country this small that has qualified for the highest-level competitions in team sports (football, hockey, basketball, handball, volleyball) and whose exceptional individual athletes have also achieved top-level individual results (skiing, cross-country skiing, ski jumping). Our footballers surprised the world by qualifying for the European and World Cups, our basketball players have won the European Championship, while our volleyball and handball players have won the title of European runner-up. Slovenian hockey players have got to compete twice in the Olympic hockey tournament, one of most important tournaments in the world. It is important to note that Slovenia has fewer than 200 professional ice hockey players, but has still defeated world hockey superpowers such as the United States and Slovakia. That said, we only have one ice hockey player in the NHL – Anže Kopitar, captain of the LA Kings.
Since football may claim global dominance in sports, we should say that three of our footballers have played in the Champions League final – Srečko Katanec, Zlatko Zahovič and Jan Oblak, who is currently widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. The basketball player Luka Dončič has been delivering outstanding performances in the NBA. Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič are the world’s top-ranked cyclists, striking fear in the hearts of other competitors. The young sports climber Janja Garnbret is one of the favourites for the first gold medal in this new Olympic sport. Tina Maze has pushed the boundaries in alpine skiing, and Primož Peterka and Peter Prevc in ski jumping. Tim Geiser has been at the summit of the world motocross championship.
From medals to recreational sport
For many years, Slovenia has been near the top of the medal-per-capita rankings. Over the course of 30 years, we have won 40 medals at the Olympics – seven gold, 13 silver and 20 bronze medals. Our athletes have won numerous medals at European and World Championships, with a total of 1,993 medals. Slovenia also ranks 15th in terms of the number of medals won relative to the nation's gross domestic product (2015 data).
It is thus not an exaggeration to say that sport is part of the Slovenian identity. Slovenia also radiates a special sporting energy because Slovenes are constantly in motion and in touch with nature, and we associate movement and physical activity with a high quality of life. Moreover, Slovenia’s rich geographical diversity and numerous year-round recreational and international sports events offer great opportunities for sports enthusiasts and those looking for active recreation.
Author: Polona Prešeren