Being an alpine skier from Croatia is “definitely harder, but I think we have some things easier” admits teenage rising star Zrinka Ljutic.
“We come from a country where you have only two mountains where you can ski. Both of them are pretty small and they have just a bit of snow in winter, so we have to travel a lot and, of course, you have to spend a lot more money,” the 18-year-old told Olympics.com in an exclusive interview ahead of the 2022/23 campaign.
“It’s been really hard. That’s why the whole family had to be involved,” added Ljutic, who had to fund herself until she entered her first FIS events and got into the national team two years ago.
The ski prodigy is one of the hottest young prospects in the sport, especially after winning two medals – including a gold – at the 2022 Junior World Championships in Panorama, Canada, and a fifth place in the slalom at the World Cup Finals in Meribel, France.
She has continued to impress this season with three top-10 finishes.
“My love for the sport came pretty early. My whole family was involved in skiing,” Ljutic recalls. “My father put me on skis when I was two or three years old, and from there we’ve been just skiing every winter.
“We’ve been a whole winter in one Austrian small village called Innerkrems. So we would ski there like every day.”
The second of four siblings, ‘Zizi’ – as she’s nicknamed – fell in love with skiing thanks to her father Amir, who was a coach for a Croatian ski club.
“We just followed him and started skiing for the club. And then every year we would just gradually, you know, build on that. So it just came pretty natural, to be honest,” she added.
Janica and Ivica Kostelic are the two big names that spring to mind when the Balkan country is mentioned in the sport.
The former was a four-time Olympic champion and is considered as one of the greatest female skiers in history. The latter was one of the best technical skiers on the men’s circuit since the turn of the century.
The support of their father Ante was key for the career of the Kostelics, and it’s not unusual to see family members involved in the coaching of other Croatian skiers like, more recently, Filip Zubcic.
“I think that’s something that you don’t see so often in other countries that have everything: they have resources, the snow, the money, like Austrians or Swiss,” Ljutic reflected.
Having your family around you can also present its advantages:
“It’s like you almost have a home with you all the time,” she said.
“Wherever you go, you kind of have that person who’s really close to you and whom you can open up to and share the moments, you know, good or bad, and they know you the best. So that helps also in the training process and everything, but it just helps you calm down and enjoy more.”
Source : Olympics