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Gymnastics has a long and rich history in Slovenia. Competing alongside Leon Štukelj were Jože Primožič and Stane Derganc, who also won Olympic medals. In subsequent decades the flag of Slovene gymnastics was carried by Miroslav Cerar, who won 28 Olympic, world and European medals. Two other Slovenes, Alojz Kolman and Aljaž Pegan, made contributions to world gymnastics by originating moves on the horizontal bar.


Slovene gymnastics has a very long tradition: the first gymnastic society was formed in 1863 in Ljubljana under the name Južni Sokol. It was the Sokol movement that really promoted the sport, and under the leadership of Dr Viktor Murnik the sporting activities of the movement blossomed. The Slovene Sokol Federation joined the international gymnastics federation in 1905, and in 1907 Slovenes first competed at the international competition that was later to become the world championships.


The influence of Murnik's work was also felt by Leon Štukelj and encouraged him in his training. His regular training and constant progress when compared with the best Slovene competitors gave him the chance to shine at the Olympics. He first showed his capabilities at the 1922 world championships in Ljubljana, where in addition to his performances on the various pieces of apparatus he also competed in athletic disciplines and swimming, eventually finishing in seventh place. At the 1924 Olympics he competed solely on gymnastic apparatus (as he did at later games), where his gymnastic talent and capability blossomed and he took two gold medals. By the end of his career he had added another Olympic gold, and will go down in Slovene history as the nation's most successful sportsman.


Štukelj's generation was the most successful seen to date, as Joze Primozic returned from the 1928 Amsterdam games with a silver on the parallel bars and Stane Derganc won bronze in the vault. The team also captured the bronze.


After the Second World War Slovene gymnastics once again reached the world summit with Miroslav Cerar, who won 28 Olympic, world and European medals between 1958 and 1970, thus becoming Slovenia's record holder for the number of medals won at major competitions. Cerar took two golds at the Olympics (he and Štukelj are the only Slovenes to have won golds in individual events), and he helped Štukelj to co-found the Slovene Olympic Committee.


Cerar's generation of athletes also had some success, as Tine Šrot won bronze at the 1963 European championships and the team came fourth at the 1970 world championships in Ljubljana.


Poor decisions in sports policy resulted in a period of under-achievement after Cerar, and it was only with Alojz Kolman that Slovene gymnastics once again came to the fore. Kolman's bronze at the 1990 European championships, and his original move on the horizontal bar now named after him, inspired Aljaz Pegan, who surprised the world with an original move of his own on the horizontal bar, winning the event at the 1994 European championships. Slovenia's high position in world gymnastics is currently being maintained by Mitja Petkovšek, who took silver on the parallel bars at the 1990 European championships and finished fourth on the parallel bars in the 1998 World Cup. It is not only Slovenia's competitors who have achieved world recognition: Miloš Stergar was awarded an honour by the international gymnastics federation this year for his service as an international judge.


Dr Ivan Cuk, Faculty of Sport