Slovenia, a republic of sports in the alpine

Tadej Pogačar, Slovenia, is one of the most successful cyclists in the world and is the pride of the country.
Photo © Lionel Vadam

A small country in Central Europe with a population of 2 million, Slovenia has been a hub for continental sports and even global sports for many years.

The Tour de France 2022 began on July 1st and several media outlets provided two distinct favorites. Tadej Pogačar, two-time defending champion Primož Roglič. Peculiarity: Both are Slovenian. Therefore, in a small country with a population of 2 million in Central Europe, there are two of the best cyclists on the planet. In fact, the Republic of Slovenia has been a rare champion factory famous for this for several years.

Cycling alone isn’t the only Slovenian on the Tour de France track, as Matej Mohorič, Luca Mezgek and Jan Tratnik also need to be counted in the Tour de France. Or 5 athletes for 2 million inhabitants … In a report like this, France should be represented by 130 men on this tour 2022, but with only 32 entries, already the first delegation It has become.

“Ambition to be great”

“Slovenia has a great ambition … this forces us to take another path if we want to succeed,” a Slovenian sports psychologist famous for his French report. Matej Tusak summarizes 24. Sport is a strength in this region of 20,273 km², which is smaller than most French regions and does not benefit from the political or economic weight of its neighbors Italy and Austria.

Sport practices are often associated with nationalism, the uplifting of national glory, and are reinforced by symbols. In Slovenia, the pride of the champions is immeasurable. Witness the exhibition at the City Hall of Ljubljana in June with an idol Pogačar jersey and bike. And the flag, sometimes even the national anthem of Slovenia, is present at the Summer and Winter Olympics as well.

Again, the performance of the small Alpine republic is clear. This is very clear when you compare the average medals won at the Summer Olympics to the country’s population. Historically, the country has been in the top ten, according to a survey conducted by the Topendsports.com site, which is more than confirmed at the last Olympics. This situation is even more pronounced at the Winter Olympics, as only Norway outperformed Slovenia in terms of medals per inhabitant in Sochi in 2014 and Beijing in 2022.

Alpine sports, cycling and even judo

Of course, winter sports. The country especially has mountainous areas. A summit with national pride and identity. Thus, the highest mountain in the country, Triglau (2,864 m), is represented not only on the national coin and coat of arms of 50 euro cents, but also on the national flag. This geographical peculiarity describes success in Slovenia, such as canoeing at the world-famous Tasen location (an example of Benjamin Subsec). In climbing, Janja Garnbret, the first gold medalist in the history of the tournament, was outstanding and won the 2021 joint event in Tokyo. Or in mountaineering, Aresh Chesen, Luca Lindich, and Luca Strazar are planets.

“When you visit Slovenia, you will certainly come across at least one hiker, cyclist, or jogger. These are Slovenian favorite activities,” the site Slovenia.info details on the holiday “Slovenian. I remember the recent introduction of “Sports Day”. This is arguably the greatest feature of Slovenian sports: its generality. The idea is not just to find and hatch promising young people. Open the practice to as many people as possible.

It was developed by Gregor Stark, a professor of sports in Ljubljana. “If all children are capable, at some point talent will eventually emerge. Some choose the sport path. There are only 220,000 children between the ages of 6 and 18. We are not in China with millions. We must take care of each one so that they can grow healthy and reach their full potential.

In this way, Slovenes reveal themselves in a variety of sports. Of course, skiers are a corps (Urša Bogataj, Timi Zajc, Nika Križnar, Peter Prevc will all be Olympic champions in 2022). But Jan Oblak, a football goalkeeper who played in Spain and was one of the best players in his position for several years, must also be counted. Motocross star Tim Geyser. Slovenia is also good at judo (Urska Jornil, Tina Trstenjak), especially … basketball.

Still young

Therefore, American basketball champions Goran Dragic and Luka Doncic are Slovenians. By their choice, the two talented players became European champions in 2017. “In general, Slovenia has a very good sports infrastructure,” recalls former sports journalist Igor E. Burgant. Coaches and teachers also do not hesitate to rely on data analysis to help athletes progress.

We must also take into account the fact that Slovenia is a very young country. It became the first republic to separate from Yugoslavia in 1991 and later became a sovereign state. It also quickly integrated the EU, NATO (2004) and the Eurozone (2007). Sport is an important pillar of national identity here and also helps explain this very rare collective success. Very rare, but no longer surprising. The media was right. Tadej Pogačar won the Tour de France leader’s yellow jersey from stage 6 this summer.