Just three weeks ahead of the start of this year's summer Olympic Games in Athens, Slovenia's Olympic team had an official presentation in the capital Ljubljana. This was an opportunity to ask some of Slovenia's top athletes how they feel and what they expect to achieve in Athens.
Before we look into the future it is right to examine how Slovenia did in the past: At the summer Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992 Slovenia presented herself for the first time as an independent country. In the end, Slovenia was 53rd among all participating nations and won two bronze medals in rowing: one for Iztok Cop and Denis Zvegelj in the coxless pair and a bronze medal for men's rowing four without coxswain.
At the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996 Slovenia achieved an even better result, namely two silver medals. Brigita Bukovec won silver over 100 m hurdles and Andraz Vehovar silver in the K-1 kayak slalom. But things improved even more in Sydney at the Olympic summer games 2000. Finally Slovenia reached out for gold - twice: Rajmond Debevec won gold in the discipline of shooting and Iztok Cop won his second medal at an Olympic game, after his bronze medal in Barcelona in 1992, it was gold in Sydney - this time together with Luka Spik. Iztok Cop therefore knows how it feels to be awarded the gold medal and twelve years after his first medal at Olympic Games, he will compete again and together with Luka Spik he will try to defend the gold medal they received in Sydney, Iztok Cop:
"Yes, on paper we are among the favourites for a top placing but unfortunately we are not the only ones on this list. I can give you 4 or 5 teams, which are equally good and the other teams, will also not accept a 4th place. All I can say is, we hope that we are well prepared and that we have gained even more in comparison with other competitors."
It looks like Slovenia's athletes are carefully optimistic before the start of this year's games and they don't promise too much. The Slovene public however expects a lot from Jolanda Ceplak the European champion and world record holder over 800m and from the Slovenian Handball team, which is No. two in Europe. I am sure spectators in Slovenia and worldwide will show a great interest in the performance of Merlene Ottey, who has won 8 medals at Olympic games for Jamaica and who will start for Slovenia at he Olympics 2004. Here career up to now has been amazing and at the age of 43 she will try again. How does she feel so close to the Olympics?
" My shape is getting much better, which is perfect. So I am more optimistic about my results now. My goal is to get in Athens in top shape, so we still have three more weeks to go."
And what are your expectations?:
" At the moment it's a possibility, based on my results before that I can get to the semi-finals but I'm open to improve some more and to get into the finals."
It is not a secret that money plays an important role in the Olympics. So an immense motivation for Slovenia's athletes to be among the first three is also the money they will receive for one of those shining medals. In the case of a gold medal the Slovene athlete would earn almost 9 million Slovene Tolars, which is approximately 37.000 Euros.
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