Aside from being a popular tourist destination, one of the main ways that many people know of Croatia is because of the country’s famous sportsmen and women. For such a small country, a remarkable number of top-class athletes have emerged. Whether you’re a fan of football, tennis, skiing or are an avid follower of the Olympics, you’re bound to have seen some Croatian sports stars participating…and winning!
- Croatian Football
Read all about Croatia’s success as an international team in the 1990s and the 2010s and achievements in between – and information on the domestic football leagues.
- Croatian Tennis
Croatia has had some real tennis greats over the years, the most famous of which is 2001 Wimbledon Champion Goran Ivanisevic.
- Croatia at the 2012 Olympics
Croatia’s amazing performance at the London Olympics
Croatian Sports Stars – Skiing
Croatia’s most famous skiier is Janica Kostelic. This outstanding skier won a number of World Cup titles, and gold and silver medals at the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics – rather amazing when you consider that Croatia doesn’t really have substantial ski training facilities or opportunities.
Janica won the overall skiing World Cup title in 2001, 2003 and 2006. She also won three gold medals and one silver at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and one gold medal and one silver medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.
Janica retired from competitive skiing in 2007, after suffering from persistent injuries.
Janica’s older brother Ivica is also a professional skier and certainly no less talented! Ivica won one silver medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics, two in the 2010 Winter Olympics (in the slalom and combined events) and one in the 2014 Winter Olympics (combined), as well as a World Championship gold medal in 2003 in the slalom. Ivica’s best achievement was winning the overall FIS Alpine Ski World Cup in 2011, winning a total of 7 World Cup races during the year.
Here’s also a couple of nice articles on Ivica (and his father, Ante) from the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics: Father Creates Slalom Course His Son, Ivica Kostelic, Will Try to Conquer (New York Times, 13th February 2014) and Ivica Kostelic ‘motivated’ to boost family’s medal haul (NBC Sports, 14th February 2014).
Croatian Sports Stars – Athletics
One of Croatia’s most well-known current athletes is high-jumper Blanka Vlasic, who hails from Split. Very successful in her field, Blanka has won a number of medals; these include golds at the World Athletics Final, the World Indoor Championships and the World Championships. Her best result in the Olympics was a silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. She sadly missed the 2012 Olympic Games in London due to injury, although was surely one of the favourites for her event that year.
Blanka set her personal best of 2.08 metres in August 2009, the second highest jump height ever achieved in the sport. She was named the IAAF World Athlete of the Year in 2010.
Blanka barely competed in 2016, but did make it to the 2016 Rio Olympics were she won bronze in the high jump competition.
Sandra Perkovic is another well known track and field athlete, competing in the discus event. In 2012 she achieved her then personal best throw of 69.11 metres (a Croatian record) at the Olympic Games; with this she won gold! Sandra successfully defended her title by also winning gold at the 2016 Olympic Games, with a throw of 69.21m.
Sandra has won gold medals at the 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018 European Championships. She has also won gold at the 2013 and 2017 World Championships.
Sandra’s longest ever throw was a distance of 71.41m achieved in 2017. This was the best throw in women’s discus for almost 25 years.
A number of Croatian basketball players are pretty famous (if you like your basketball!); Croatian players have played for some top teams in Europe and the U.S. over the years. These players include ’90s greats such as Toni Kukoc (who played for the Chicago Bulls); Dino Radja (Boston Celtics); and Drazen Petrovic (NJ Nets), who sadly died in a car accident in 1993 at the age of only 28.
Croatia won silver in their first Olympic Games in 1992, losing to the mighty U.S. team in the final. This was a remarkable and uplifting achievement for a country suffering from the terrible effects of war at the time.
The best results other than that include one third place finish at the FIBA World Cup, and twice third at EuroBasket.
More information can be found at the Croatian Basketball Federation website.
As in much of Eastern Europe, handball is a popular sport in Croatia. There are handball leagues in the country which attract a large following and which have good attendance figures.
Croatia has won gold in men’s handball in both the 1996 and 2004 Olympic Games. They also won the gold in the 2003 World Championships, and have been runners-up three times – including at the 2009 Championships, which were held in Croatia. They have also been runners-up in the European Championships three times, including at the 2020 Championships.
More info on the sport at the Croatian Handball Federation website.