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SPORT IN SLOVENIA

June 2000

 

Sport is nowadays, as it has been traditionally, publicly strongly supported and considered as one of the instruments for healthy lifestyle. Internationally, the aim of Slovenian sport is to gain international recognition and approval, on the national level it strives to raise common awareness of the importance of sport for the society as a whole.

 

Enthusiasm for activity

Every third Slovene regularly takes part in active leisure pursuits

Records and medals at the most important world competitions, the conquering of the so-far unclimbed south wall of Daulaghiri in the Himalayas, the Slovene football team qualifying for the first time for the European Championship and the Slovene handball team for the Olympic Games in Sydney, all fill Slovene sports enthusiasts with joy at the turn of the millennium. There are nearly 400,000 registered members of almost 3,000 sports societies and clubs, which are joined into 69 national leagues. 265,000 members regularly take part in their chosen sports activity, nearly a third of adult Slovenes take part in some sort of active leisure pursuit at least once a week. In Slovenia, there are 88,000 registered sportsmen and women at the top or competition level, among them there are more than 2,000 who are categorised as top-level or promising sportsmen and women.

 

In the falcon's footsteps

The beginnings of organised exercise in Slovenia

As early as the Middle Ages, people living on the territory now embraced by Slovenia took part in activities similar to sport. The first Slovene encyclopaedia writings (Slava Vojvodine Kranjske, 1689) describe boating, cave exploration, fishing, hunting, mountain climbing, shooting and ski- ing. The 17th century description of a skier from Bloke is the oldest written record of ski-ing in Central Europe. In spite of this documented early existence of sport, Slovene sports societies did not appear until nearly two hundred years later - the first Slovene sports association Južni sokol (The Southern Falcon) was founded in 1862, as a response to the German Turnverein, founded a year earlier.

In 1905 the Slovenska sokolska zveza (The Slovene Falcon League) appeared, uniting 115 societies. Around this time numerous other societies were formed: between 1872 and 1920, mountaineers, cyclists and students joined, the latter organising their Slovene sports societies at universities. Between the First and the Second World Wars the first professional sports leagues were formed and for a while there was also a Slovene sub-committee of the Yugoslav Olympic Committee.

After the Second World War, the Fizkulturna zveza (The Physical Culture Association) was set up, which later became the Športna zveza Slovenije (The Sports Association of Slovenia), with the later addition of an association for physical education called Partizan. In the seventies and eighties, there were special physical culture associations, responsible for financing sports activities. At this time, more than 200 gymnasiums were built as well as a number of other sports facilities. In 1991, the Slovene Olympic Committee was founded, which was recognised a year later by the International Olympic Committee. Slovene competitors took part under the Slovene flag for the first time at the Olympic Games in Albertville in 1992.

 

The national programme

From physical education to top-level sport

The organisation of sports activities in Slovenia is based on the activities of sports associations, societies and clubs, which can function freely according to the principle of the freedom of association. The state is creating suitable conditions for the development of sport via the National Sports Programme, which was adopted by the parliament and which determines short- term, mid-term and long-term goals. The programme determines that sports activities are in the public interest and it covers the overall organisation of physical education, recreation, high- quality sports, top-level sports and sports activities for the disabled.

The Ministry of Education and Sport financially supports sports activities in all areas. In addition, it is also responsible for school sports programmes and for educating professional sports personnel to work in sports organisations and in education.

The sports programmes in primary and secondary schools include three school hours of sports activities a week, taught by physical education teachers with higher education qualifications. At universities, too, there are fully-trained instructors who supervise sports activities and students in the first two years of full-time study have two weekly sports sessions.

 

Winning disciplines

From floor exercises to the highest peaks in the world

Slovene sportsmen and women are very successful at international level. So far, they have won 50 Olympic medals, and more than 360 world championship medals. At the last Olympic Games in Atlanta, they won two silver medals. Slovenia thus achieved a very high fifth place according to the number of medals won in relation to population size.

The best results are gained in ski-ing, athletics, ski-jumping, gymnastics, rowing and white-water canoeing. In team sports, too, Slovene clubs and teams hold their own at all international competitions. The greatest achievements have been in basketball, volleyball, handball and, more recently, in European Cup football.

A special place in Slovene sport is occupied by Alpinists. Their achievements at the extremes of human endurance, among which are the first ascents of some of the most difficult faces in the Himalayas and other mountain ranges, are not a coincidence. Mountaineering and Alpinism have a very long tradition in Slovenia, and mountaineering is also one of the most popular forms of recreation. The latest Alpinist achievement was in November 1999 by Tomaž Humar. In a solo ascent he climbed the South face of Daulaghiri, which the experts had called a challenge for the third millennium.

 

Achievements, worthy of national pride

The most important Slovene sportsmen and women

Even under Austro-Hungarian rule, the Slovene people took part in international games and started competing at the Olympic Games in 1912. As a member of the then Austro-Hungarian team, the Slovene, Rudolf Cvetko, won a silver medal in fencing. The first great achievements in the history of world sports accomplished by Slovene sportsmen and women were mainly in gymnastics, as Slovene gymnasts were before the Second World War among the best in the world. Particularly famous was Leon Štukelj who, between 1922 and 1936, won eight gold, four silver and five bronze medals in three Olympic Games and three world championships.

After the Second World War, the reputation of Slovene gymnastics was carried forward by Miro Cerar, with two gold medals and one bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo and Cuidad de Mexico. He was also among the best at the world championships in Moscow in 1958, Prague in 1962, Dortmund in 1966 and Ljubljana in 1970.

In the last twenty years it is skiers who have achieved the best results. Ever since Bojan Križaj won 4th place in the giant slalom at the Olympic Games in Lake Placid in 1980, Boris Strel, Jure Franko, Mateja Svet, Jure Košir, Katja Koren, Alenka Dovžan, Nataša Bokal, Urška Hrovat and Špela Pretnar have all stood on the winning podiums at major competitions (world cups, world championships and the Olympic Games). Špela Pretnar was the slalom World Cup winner in the 1999/2000 season.

Slovene ski jumpers are also very successful. Matjaž Debelak won a bronze medal on the 90 metre ski-jump at the Olympic Games in Calgary. In 1991 Franci Petek became the world champion on the 90 metre ski-jump in Predaz and Primož Peterka won the World Cup in the 1996/97 and 1997/98 seasons.

In the eighties and nineties, Slovene scullers won medals at world championships and Olympic Games. At the Olympic Games in Seoul, the bronze medal for the coxless double scull was won by Sadik Mujkič and Bojan Prešeren. Three years later, Iztok Čop and Denis Žvegelj won a silver medal at the world championship in Vienna, plus a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. The same year, a bronze medal for the four-man scull was won by Sadik Mujkič, Milan Janša, Janez Klemenčič and Sašo Mirjanič. Iztok Čop won a further three medals at the world championships. In Indianapolis in 1994, he won a bronze in the single sculls, a year later he won at the world championship in Tampere, and in 1999 at St. Catherines, he became the world champion in the double sculls, together with Luka Špik.

The 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta were also very successful for Slovene sportsmen and women. The athlete Brigita Bukovec missed gold only by a hundredth of a second in the 100 metres hurdles. Her success was supplemented by Andraž Vehovar with a silver medal in white-water canoeing (K-1 slalom). Three years later, Gregor Cankar was among the best athletes at the world championship in Seville, winning a bronze medal in the long-jump.

Among the winners of Olympic Games medals in team sports are also Slovene basketball, handball and football players, who won their medals as members of Yugoslav teams.

The successes of Slovene sportsmen and women are supplemented by those working in sports organisation, who are considered to be excellent organisers of world competitions. The Vitranc Cup in Kranjska gora and the Zlata lisica Cup on the Pohorje are included in the World Cup ski- ing programme. The annual final competition of the ski-jumping World Cup takes place at Planica, on the largest natural ski-jump in the world. In addition, there are also the annual International Gymnastics Tournament in Ljubljana, the Šiki Memorial in athletics and other competitions at European and world levels.