If you asked anyone from Croatia what is the most common topic we like to discuss while drinking our 3-hours-long coffee, the answer would be – politics. It seems that we always have some kind of elections coming up accompanied by countless café arguments whom to vote for and who should end up behind bars. However, every now and then, whenever a sports event is on the horizon, we completely forget all about politics and gather up to celebrate our athletes’ success or blame the judges for their failures.
In our country, everybody is into sports. We have big tennis courts, athletic tracks, swimming pools, ice skating rinks, rowing tracks on lakes, impressive sports halls (like Arena Zagreb in the photo above; built in 2008 for the world handball championship and known for Backstreet Boys comeback concert in late 2009), football fields and downhill skiing slopes.
However, out of all mentioned above, if we had to name 3 words that would be synonymous for sports in the city of Zagreb they would be: Dinamo, the Kostelić family and the Universiade (Univerzijada).
Dinamo is the name of the most successful Croatian football (soccer) club, nicknamed The Zagreb Blue, known for fans called the Bad Blue Boys and for its never ending rivalry with Hajduk from Split. As citizens of Zagreb, we’re extremely proud to say that Dinamo is the only Croatian football club that won a European cup (1967, Inter-City Fairs Cup). Also, we are proud that our Dinamo (and, yes, we’re aware of the fact that all of our readers located in southern Croatia who are passionate about Hajduk, will roll their eyes to the ending of this sentence, but the truth has to be said) was Croatian champion more times than any other Croatian club and, more importantly, tree times more than Hajduk. It would take us at least 5 blog posts to name all former Dinamo players and their achievements, but we can’t move to the next chapter without mentioning the name of Dinamo’s former captain – Luka Modrić. Yes, THE Luka Modrić – best player of 2018 FIFA World championship that lead our national team towards silver medal in Russia and the same Luka Modrić that beat Cristiano Ronaldo that same year becoming the best football player in the world. Oh yes, and the same Luka Modrić that Hajduk refused to train, claiming he’s too skinny to play football.
Janica and Ivica Kostelić
As a nation, we have always been good at tennis, water polo, football, basketball and handball (as you can see, mainly sports where we get to play with a ball), but winter sports were always reserved for our neighbors, the Slovenians. Slovenians have a part of the Alps and a lot of skiing resorts where we like to ski over the weekend for fun. They have the mountain spirit and even the Elan skis, but for us it has never been a sport we would imagine ourselves competing or winning. Until the beginning of the new millennium when a handball coach from Zagreb, Ante “The Cast” Kostelić had an idea to train his talented kids into becoming the best skiers in the world.
Together, between 2001 and 2013, his two children, Janica and Ivica, won 10 Olympic medals (4 gold, 6 silver), 4 World Cup big crystal globes (overall best ski racer of the season), 12 World Cup small crystal globes (for individual disciplines) and 5 gold World Championship medals. Of course, soon after their first win, the whole nation became a nation of passionate skiers and this winter sport became one of the top sports in Croatia. We even pushed our new passion to the next level and managed to include Zagreb, as the only capital in the world, to become one of the hosts of the World Cup slalom race, named after the Kostelić siblings; The Snow Queen and the Snow King Trophy. Interestingly, Janica and Ivica have never won the race in their home town, but this year a new skiing talent, Filip Zubčić , started to win races in the cup and now all our eyes are on him hoping that Zagreb will finally get to crown its own Snow King.
Univerzijada – the 1987 Summer Universiade
In 1987 Zagreb had an honor to host the 14th World University Games, the largest multi-sports event in the world apart of the Olympic Games. The preparations lasted for 2 years during which most of our cities sports venues were built and the already existing ones were completely restored. Finally, on July 8th 1987, all eyes were on Zagreb, watching the spectacular 3,5 hours long opening ceremony that took place at Dinamo stadium where the impressive number of 122 participating countries national teams were presented. The highlight of the ceremony was when our legendary basketball Mozart, Dražen Petrović, lit the flame and the games were officially open.
The competitions lasted for 10 days and more than 6400 athletes competed in 12 different sports making it the biggest sports event Zagreb has organized to this point. The famous games mascot, the blue squirrel named Zagi, cheered the slogan “World of the Young for a World of Peace”, making it an event to remember with a smile even more than 30 years later.
Today, on every step in Zagreb (#mustvisit, #zagreblovesyou #yugocitytour), you’ll find a memory of our sporting past and hope for our sporting future. You can take a photo of countless Dinamo graffiti, you can cheer for Cibona club at the basketball venue built exactly for the Universiade and named after the tragically deceased Dražen Petrović, you can jog around Jarun lake turned into a major sports center (yes, you can already guess – in 1987) or watch an ice hockey game in The Home of Sports where our figure skater, Sanda Dubravčić, had trained and became the first female in history to light the Olympic flame (at the 1984 Olympics).
And most definitely, while walking around – you’ll see Zagi. He still is today the symbol of Zagreb, so we’ll end this post with the image of Zagi that the citizens of Zagreb got from the Bosnian artist Midhat Kapetanović in March 2020, after the devastating earthquake. It’s our brave blue squirrel carried through the pile of bricks by his buddy Vučko – the mascot of ’84 Sarajevo Olympic Games. Isn’t this one of the coolest and most impressive images of peace, love, solidarity and unity? We certainly think so.
*** photo of Janica and Ivica borrowed from skijanje.hr website, winter picture of Sljeme used with permition of skolasljeme.com the image of Zagi and Vučko downloaded from Midhad Kapetanović Facebook