On Thursday, at the Ladies 10km Classic, Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk crossed the finish to take Gold. A full 17 minutes behind Kowalczyk, a determined 19 year-old struggled to climb the final hill, going so slowly that race officials were walking along beside her. Finishing in last position, Serbia’s Ivana Kovacevic unceremoniously completed the course.
From Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ivana began skiing at age 6 at the encouragement of her father, a Nordic skiing coach. From there she improved steadily and, by age 15, set her sights on representing Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 2011 Youth Olympics. This was a lofty goal for a young girl from a country that had scant resources and little or no programs to develop young athletes. Fortunately, she found help from Norway, a power-house of the skiing world. At 16, Ivana was invited to an intensive training program in Lillehammer. Norwegian ski clubs as well as the Norwegian Embassy provided the financial support to make the trip possible. With continued support, Ivana did compete in the Youth Olympics and the IBU Open European Championship in Italy. She was able to train on the best cross-country courses in the World and was soon the number one skier in her class in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
By 2012, Ivana set her new goal to participate in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Although she could count on continued support and encouragement from Norway to help realize her dream, the same could not be said of her home country. Since neighboring country, Serbia put more resources toward building an Olympic team, Ivana made the switch to represent Serbia while continuing to train with Norwegian ski clubs.
Ivana’s dream became reality last year in Lillehammer when she qualified for the 2014 Olympics. She attributes structure and hard work as the key factors in her success. She states, “The most important lesson that I have learned from my time in Norway, and one that I try to convey to my fellow athletes, is that good results require that you do your best every day, and you enjoy your journey to your goal.”
Upon her arrival in Sochi with the Serbian Team, Ivana was disappointed to learn she could not compete in the event she trained for, the 7.5 Sprint. Although that event did not permit entrance by skiers from B class qualifiers, Ivana was allowed to compete in the 10km event. Following her disappointing finish, Ivana remained positive stating, her debut at the Winter Olympics in Sochi was a great incentive to further her skiing career. “This was my first appearance at the Olympics. Though the 10 kilometer classic is not my priority discipline, I am aware that [i can get better], and I always try reach my maximum potential. Certainly these Olympics are a great experience for me and encouragement in my future career, “she said after the race.
Ivana Kovacevic has overcome a lot of adversity to realize her goals and, at 19, she has a lot of skiing ahead of her. Regardless of future Olympic success or failure, she has a lot to give to aspiring athletes from developing countries such as Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Hats off to you Ivana!