Ana Zelić and Hana Dragojević: We Are Convinced of Our Journey to the Olympics

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Although the two of them could be called sheer opposites, without anything in common except a big love for sailing, on the sailboat they are – a team. The younger is the helmswoman, the older controls the sail, and both of them are the CRO20 sailing team

Hana Dragojević and Ana Zelić from the Split Labud Sailing Club are currently the only female Croatian crew in the Olympic category “470.” The same class in which Šime Fantela and Igor Marenić won an Olympic gold a year and a half ago in the waters of Rio de Janeiro, Sandra Barčot wrote for Slobodna Dalmacija on March 31, 2018.

And now these two girls, 17-year-old Hana and 22-year-old Ana, are looking for a visa so they can sail at the 2020 Olympics in the waters of Tokyo. “This is why we have CRO20 on the sail, everything is geared toward the Olympic Games,” says Goran Martinović, their coach who has been guiding them since June of last year, when the club bought them a ten year old sailboat, but with a good pedigree – it is the boat in which Šime and Igor won the world junior gold.

Although the girls would be better off with a new boat in order to write their own history in, they are satisfied with this slightly older “beauty” with which they made their first steps of sailing together. “In the beginning there was more diving than sailing, I was more snorkelling than hanging off the side. Then the clumsy practice of quickly detaching from the trapeze, which ended more often in getting entangled than graciously sweeping from one to the other side of the boat,” says Ana laughing, a student in the third year of the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, specializing in maths and physics, now in charge of the sail.

“And at almost every practice I lost a pair of glasses. The fish got at least three… They became my nightmare, so I don’t even wear them anymore,” also laughing is Hana, now commanding the helm, seemingly the younger ordering the older around. “That doesn’t happen at sea, on a regatta. We agree on everything. When I have a better view of the regatta field and competitors, then I’m in command, and in other situations Hana is. In two-seaters everything is done together,” explains Ana, as well as how they even got the idea of sailing in a two-seater, a class slowly dying out in the Adriatic.

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Organizing a regatta with enough crews in the “470,” “420” or the newer “49er” class has become a true nightmare for Croatian clubs. There is simply not enough of them for a real competition. “This is a problem for us too, no sparring partner at sea, only when we join a regatta abroad, I can see how much the girls have learned,” added coach Martinović, while Ana brings us back to the beginning of the story – how the two girls decided to work together: “In the radial class I was without a coach for a year, I stagnated and we decided to try a duet. And with whom else than with Hana! We wanted to be just like the Zadar girls, Enia Ninčević and Romana Župan, to sail at the Olympics. They went to London in 2012, and we hope to do the same eight years later in Japan.

In those attempts, the girls are training up a storm! They weren’t slowed down by Han’s knee injury, they are at sea regularly, under the watchful eye of coach Goran, who’s known to yell if they don’t do well, but their biggest fear is when he’s – quiet. “If there is silence in the communication, then we really messed up,” explained Hana, a third grade pupil of the Vladimir Nazor sports gymnasium.

And as her school grades are also controlled by Goran, they explained the difference from the beginning of the story. “I have to say I campaign, studying only when necessary, while Ana is a real nerd, always ready, completing everything on time. Maths and physics of all things,” says Ana honestly, adding a compliment to her sports partner: “But with her I am also improving. Now our differences are growing smaller. We earn blisters from ropes together, we drop into the sea together, we tame the waves and wind together.”

“Nothing is easy, strength and endurance are required, the dual sailing technique needs to be mastered,” says coach Goran in summary and again detailed the assignments for the girls if they are looking for Olympic norm. “They need to be among the 20 best nations, out of 40 in this class, in order to sail at the Olympics. Eights norms are given out in the beginning of August at the World Championship in Aarhus. After that comes the junior championship in Rome, so they need to be well prepared to compete against the Brits, Slovenes, Dutch, the rulers f “470.” The first big test is in Bulgarian Varna in mid-May at the European Championship. Lots of regattas, lots of plans, if only we could score well and maybe get a new boat, new equipment,” says coach Martinović with a sigh of the travel plans, who worries about the finances alongside perfecting the sailing technique of his female crew.

The value of a new boat with equipment is around 20.000 euro (in comparison theirs is worth just 3.000), and without speed the new equipment gives you, you can hardly be on par on the regatta field. When you add another 30.000 euro for the annual travel, practice and regatta plan, Martinović has enough to worry about. But to be optimistic: “The girls sailed at the junior European championship last year on the Italian Garda Lake, and then a few more in Italy. At the last on in Imperia they were at the same level as the top-seeded girls.”

For now these are indicators enough that another good female crew in the “470” class is being trained.

Translated from Slobodna Dalmacija, for the original click here.

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