Dear Tijana, how are you? Have you grasped your success fully after seeing the atmosphere in Serbia since all of you came back from the Olympic games? Sportsmen are often unaware of their achievements until they see the reaction of people back home.
I am feeling really great. After a week, now I can say I am becoming fully aware of my success. I am happy with the final result. We prepared for the Olympic games thoroughly, paying attention to every single detail, and we went there ready. I must say I am also very pleased that I managed to perform in Brazil all the tasks that we practised in Serbia. I had no pressure from others to achieve a specific result, but I put pressure on myself. I decided to go there and do all or nothing – I had nothing to lose. Although, there was an issue at the last second and we were so close to the gold medal, I am happy with the outcome.
Can you tell us more about the whole experience in Rio? I suppose this was your first time traveling so far – what did you like most about the city, and what was the atmosphere in the Olympic village like?
I have traveled a lot before, and I visited Rio 4 years ago. Out of all the available people, back then, Coach picked me to go to London with the Olympic taekwondo team. A lot of them reacted very negatively and were very surprised by his decision, but he told them that time and the results would show why he decided to take a 14-year-old to such an important sporting event. I would like to thank my coach now for believing in me. As for the atmosphere, it was stunning. We were told we brought in positive energy the day we came, and I am glad for that. We did arrive ready, smiling, and full of optimism. I had the chance to meet the best of the best in Serbian sport: Ivana Spanovic, Davor Stefanek, the water polo and basketball teams, all great sportsmen and amazing people. It was a family atmosphere – we cheered for each other, we comforted each other whenever someone lost a game, and we celebrated all together if the team won. Those are the moments you remember forever, and I am glad I got to experience them at the age of 18.
Can you describe how one Olympic day looked?
The first day we arrived, we went to support the Serbian female basketball team, then to the water polo and male basketball teams. Afterwards, I had only two days off before my taekwondo competition, so we used that time for training, and we were focused on that. When I was over with my rounds, we went to support Milica Mandic, my colleague and taekwondo champion. In the meantime, during the short breaks, we would watch our friends in the TV room.
What kind of challenges were you facing before going to Rio, did you have any particular doubts or fears?
The period during training was very tough, especially starting a year ago, when I became a Senior. We participated in 20 tournaments, out of which I won 18 medals, then the qualifications for the Olympic games started and I was already exhausted. I managed to qualify only because of my coach, who was able to push my boundaries even when I was sure I could no longer keep up. Nevertheless, in spite of fatigue and a tiring season I got my Visa for Rio. I have to mention that I would never have achieved such good reasults if it weren’t for my coach Dragan Jovic, sport psychologist Marija Pavlovic, fitness trainer prof. Dusko Ilic, and my physiotherapist Pedja Jovicic. My family was there with me all the time, my club, coaches Uros, Steva, Nina and Tanja, my professor Irena from my high school was a huge support also, as well as the rest of my professors. My sparring partners were there at every single training session, to help and to make me laugh when it got hard – Dimbe, Aleksandra, Vanja, Sara, Nadja, Strahinja, and of course Milica Mandic, who has taught me a lot. All of these people are part of my silver Olympic medal, and thanks to them I matured and learned a lot. I wish to thank them for everything. I was not able to go out so much with my friends, I was missing classes, I gave up eating the food I like, in order to have the appropriate weight, I had up to three training sessions a day, but this medal is worth all of it. The greatest reward for this success is not what I gained with it, but what I became with it.
Do you have any ritual before going onto the mat? How did you prepare for the final match?
My ritual before going out on the tatami is to hug my coach and to take a bow. We knew exactly what each one of us needed to do before the match started. The night before the finals, my coach gathered the whole team together, and we repeated once again the whole process. The fitness coach does the warming up and streching until my body is ready for the taekwondo part. Then my coach Gale takes over. After warming up I talk to the psychologist if there is a need for that. Depending on the schedule of matches I used to go and eat something with the guys from the team, but of course, only food that was allowed for me. All the time Gale, Pedja and Dusko would play the Serbian hymn or some local traditional Serbian songs, such as Pukni zoro. We laughed a lot listening to three of them singing from the bottom of their hearts.
What is the best advice that your coach has given to you and that you will never forget?
My coach likes to say: If you give up once, then it becomes a habit, so never ever give up. He also likes to mention a verse from a poem that says: Out of a thousand people, be that one person who will push the boundaries more and more, reaching where no one else goes. He often says: All of this is just a game.
How come you chose taekwondo out of all the other sports?
I started training when I was only four years old thanks to my parents. I grew up with taekwondo, fell in love with it, I liked the people I was working with and the adrenaline during the match. I like the fact this is a very active sport with a lot of contact. Taekwondo is with me every day, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.
Did Milica Mandic, Serbian taekwondo athlete and the reigning Olympic champion, give you any advice that helped you in crucial moments?
Yes, she did. She is an amazing person and was part of my growing up. I learn from her every single day. She taught me to respect others and myself, she taught me what hard work and discipline are and that every effort matters. Once, she told me I had to grab every chance I get, because one never knows what may happen in a year or four years and to learn how to fight for my dreams. Looking up to her, I learned how to stay positive and look on the brighter side of life. She is a true and unique friend.
When you are in Belgrade you train a lot. Do you have time for a hobby, and what do you do in your leisure time?
I spend my leisure time with my sisters and my brother, I have two sisters and a brother, I love them a lot and enjoy spending time with them. I also like seeing people from my primary school, my former high school and this one now, but that does not happen so often. Nevertheless, they all support me, and they don’t get angry if I don’t have time for going out. Sometimes, I like being alone, reading a good book or spending time on social networks.
What is your next step?
I have a one month break, then I will continue to train. The next competition is at the end of October, it is the local tournament Galebov trofej Beograda – Serbia open.
Do you have a motto that inspires you in hard moments?
If you can dream it, you can do it.
Photo credits: Nenad Negovanovic