In the next of our Member Federation features, the spotlight is on Serbia ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio.
Serbia have never won a track and field medal at the Olympic Games as an independent nation but as the party starts in Rio tonight, the prospects of that record changing are understandably high. A week today, the athletics programme will begin, and four days into it, on the evening of Tuesday 16 August, the women will enter the stadium for the qualifying rounds of the long jump.
Four years ago in London, Ivana Spanovic would not have brought much attention to her rivals. She was 22, she was emerging, she made the final but missed the cut with a best of 6.35m.
Now, her presence could not be more different. She has won seven medals since London, including European golds, adding outdoor glory in Amsterdam last month to her indoor triumph last year in Prague. She was also the silver medallist at the Europeans in Zurich 2014.
Spanovic is one of the iconic figures of Serbian athletics, at a time when the sport is enjoying a brilliant period.
“I have followed Ivana Spanovic since 2008,” says Slobodan Brankovic, the General Secretary of the Serbian Athletics Federation. “Since I came into the athletics federation, I have seen her development over all these years. The whole nation is very proud of her results and her success, and we hope (she wins) one of the medals in Rio.”
Which poses the question: has Spanovic become a big role model for youngsters in Serbia?
Brankovic adds: “With her results, she has become an idol to many people and children who would like to train in athletics. She and other medallists have done a lot for the development of athletics in Serbia, as well as her status in society.”
Serbia have 12 track and field athletes in Rio including Mihail Dudas, who won decathlon bronze in Amsterdam, and Amela Terzic, the double European under-23 champion over 1500m.
Since their independence in 2006, the country has slowly progressed to achieve an impressive number of athletics medals at the big events.
“Our athletes have won 15 medals from the World and European Championships since 2012,” says Brankovic. “All the medals have an effect and a lot of young children have shown interest in the sport.
“We fight for kids to be introduced to athletics as part of the school programme.”
And with this success, there could arguably be no better time than for Serbia to be hosting next March’s European Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade.
“We are so excited that European Athletics chose us to be organisers for this event,” says Brankovic. “The preparations for the Indoor Championships are progressing. We stick to our deadlines, and everything we agreed with European Athletics is finished until now. For now, we don’t have any problems.” Back in 2013, Belgrade was the host for the SPAR European Cross Country Championships and how does staging that event compare with the indoors?
“The European Cross Country Championships requires one specific type of organisation, held in winter period, and it lasts only one day,” says Brankovic. “A lot of it depends on weather condition.
“That experience means a lot to us, but the indoor championships cannot be compared with that organisation as it spreads over three days and involves more stakeholders.
“The easiest part is the promotion of the event in Serbia.”
And when your athletes are winning medals and catching the eye of public, that can only help the cause.