Social conditions and financial opportunities contribute to a nation’s success in sports, according to Olympic medalist Milorad Čavić, who has been considering Serbia’s knack for producing top sporting talent. “No one really knows why there is so much talent here but I think a great deal of it has to do with the economic situation,’ the American Serb swimming champion told W!LDRooSTeR.
“Physiologically we are strong, we are tall, but the other side is the mental thing. It is the average man’s desire to break out of their current situation. It is their gateway to a better life. For that reason, if you see some of the places that our best athletes have trained, I think it has given them something that someone from the West would not have had need to bring out.
“I remember Anna Ivanović telling me that she trained in an empty swimming pool for some time during the bombings. For half of her training she would be hitting the ball up the slope and for the other half she would be hitting it down. Then some pools were used for shot putters. Right up until two or three years ago, shot putters were using one of our pools. Out of their own pride, people in the United States would have said, to hell with this.
“While conditions play a role in development of talent and encouraging young athletes to go further, Čavić sees determination to succeed as the key to success in sport. “It’s similar to what in America they call the black gene,’ he said. “Because they have been so oppressed for centuries and it is still very much a problem today, they see athletics and music as an avenue to a better life. As a result, they are busting their butts harder than everyone else.
“We can never say that’s completely accurate but, on the other side, if you have a strong desire and a strong need for something, if your family is suffering and you are a great athlete and you know you can help them out, you will do it. That’s why a lot of athletes here turn pro at the age of 16, because they are able to help their families out in ways they never could have done any other way. Even if they are an average athlete making €2,000 a month, it sure beats the hell out of €300 a month, which the family together will somehow have to get by on here. You’d have to be selfish to not do it if your family is in question.
“I think it is one of the saddest things in the world to put the weight of a family on a 15 or 16-year-old boy. But very often that happens here. Then when they are injured and no longer able to continue what they are doing, without having graduated from high school, it’s tough. Even if they did go to uni, maybe the best they could hope for would be €500 a month – unless they have some ties, if they know people.
The breadline is not on the cards for Čavić, though. “Thankfully, if I wanted to get a job here, I could get a really, really good job,’ he said. “I’m sure I could make a starting salary of €1,000 per month, which to the Western world is not a lot but for here it is enough to sustain your family in a very comfortable life. Ok, not with many luxuries but you’ll have everything you need.”
With all that he has experienced in past years and the career still ahead of him, could we ever see the out-spoken Čavić going into politics? “I am hoping to have a future in sports politics here and I am hoping to be able to allocate some money in a different way,’ he said. “Maybe the athletes of today won’t like me for it but, ten years down the road, the knowledge that I hope to give everyone is a long-term goal. But here, especially when there is a crisis, people want results today. You are always going to have some cowboy come out and say, ‘no, I won’t just give you bread, I’ll give you bread and some jam’. All I can do is promise them jam today, with the promise that in ten years, you will not only have jam and bread but also some other things. But people want results today and that is a problem.”