A hero’s homecoming was awaiting Serbia’s athletes when they arrived back from the Olympic Games. In scenes reminiscent of Djokovic’s triumphant return as Wimbledon champion, tens of thousands of well-wishers filled Belgrade city centre to show their praise and respect for the athletes’ performance in London and to see the medals won there.
That so many people turned out to cheer their return went a long way to soften the blow of disappointment for Olympic boxer Aleksandar Drenovak. Hearts were filled with hope when the nation’s favourite young middleweight won his first fight against Ecuador’s Suarez Delgado, but those hopes were shattered when he was out-classed by Turkey’s Adem Kilicci.
“I must tell you, I am not satisfied with my result at the games,’ he told Wild Rooster. “I came thirteenth. I gave my best in the moment but I could have done better. I am better than that.
“But I am proud of what I did there and, of course, I have to take encouragement from the reaction of the whole country. I am proud of myself because I made many people happy with my first victory and with how I performed and behaved at the Games. For that alone, I can be happy with what I achieved there.”
Belgrade Crowds Welcome Team Serbia
Such disappointment was not felt by the flag-waving crowds who turned out to hug and cheer Team Serbia as they arrived home in the early hours. “We came late at Belgrade Airport, around 2am, but there were many people there,’ said Aleksandar ‘Sugar’ Drenovak. “Most of them were athletes’ families and close friends, and mine were there, too. Also there were many fans who sang songs for us and they brought musicians with trumpets. It was just amazing.
“I was surprised by how they reacted to us but it was a very positive feeling. At that one moment I realised that we did so many good things in London as a whole team and that people in our country are proud because of that. That felt very good.”
Despite being knocked sideways by the warmth of the welcome, there was not any let up for Aleksandar. “There were so many media people there at the airport and our national TV was broadcasting our homecoming live,’ he said. “Everyone wanted to speak to us and I had to give an interview the moment I came out of the airport. I could not believe that I was speaking live for national TV in front of people who were screaming our names while music was being performed. It was an unforgettable experience.”
A Feeling Money Cannot Buy
If the athletes thought that this would be the highlight of their homecoming, they were mistaken. Prime Minister Ivica Dačić hosted a reception for the athletes during the evening and the people of Belgrade had their own special welcome waiting for their national heroes. “The day after we came from London we had to attend a welcoming event in Belgrade and a crowd of thousands of people were in front of City Hall. The feeling when I saw that crown cannot match anything I saw in my whole life. That feeling you cannot buy. Only a few lucky people can feel this in their lives.
Typically humble, Aleksandar wanted to lay praise on the medal winners at London 2012. “I was proud of myself and of our whole team, but most of all, I want to thank the shooters Ivana and Andrija, the water polo team, and our golden taekwondo girl Milica, whose results provided this for all of us.”
Memories of Victory and Djokovic
While some medal-winning athletes have been attracting most of the attention, the experiences of the London 2012 Olympic Games will be remembered by the whole of Team Serbia. “Everything I experienced was like some dream come true: from the first day of the Games, getting to know Djokovic, supporting the other athletes from Serbia, seeing the sights of London, my first victory, through to my welcome back in Serbia and Banja. I cannot choose my main memory. I will hold all of those memories in a special place for the rest of my life.
For the past month, the small spa town of Vrnjacka Banja, in Central Serbia has been decked out in national flags and banners bearing messages of support for the town’s favourite son, Aleksandar. Locals had gathered to watch the Olympics at community screenings set up across the town and life came to a standstill during their boy’s fights. So it was not surprising that even more surprises were waiting for Aleksandar when he finally made it home.
“The welcome in Vrnjacka Banja was very special to me,’ said Aleksandar, aged 28. “It was magical. The people from the city, my friends and others that I know prepared the welcome on their own initiative, privately. It was not official. They held it at Cafe Moment, where most of them watched the Games and saw my matches in front of big screens.
Tears of Joy in Vrnjacka Banja
“When I came into town they all waited for me in front of the café. They sang a song they made for me when I boxed and they lit flares and torches. It was an amazing feeling. I had tears in my eyes, tears of joy. I realised then how much I had made them proud because of everything I had done and I was very proud because of that.”
Knowing that he had the backing of his family and friends got him through his personal feelings of disappointment and made his time in London all the more enjoyable. “My family was there for me all the time,’ he said. “I knew that I had their support no matter what happened in London. They were very proud because of everything.”
The excitement of the homecoming has been the giddy climax of a long Olympic campaign for all the athletes. Now that it is over, Aleksandar is looking forward to a return to normality and a chance to relax. “I slept very little these days because of everything that has happened,’ he said. “I hope that now I will have a little time to get some rest and to relax before I get back to training.
“I must say that I didn’t have a summer vacation for three years because of preparations, tournaments and obligations in boxing. So the first thing I am going to do now is to go to vacation with my family and friend. I will wait until I come back before making any other plans.”
Go Pro? First To Know
So, what of those plans: Does Aleksandar plan to remain an amateur or could the lure of cash tempt him to turn professional? “I will have to see about that,’ he told Wild Rooster. “I like amateur boxing very much and when you experience the Olympic Games you want to do it again, but who knows: Maybe I will turn pro, maybe I will go to the World Series of Boxing, which is semi-pro boxing and you can also remain amateur. I will decide later – and you will be the first one to know!” I’ll keep you to that, Aco…