If you’re a regular reader of TSN, or visitor to Slovenia, you’re no doubt aware of this country’s outsized reputation and achievements with regard to alpinism, a story told in the wonderful Alpine Warriors, which follows the two or three generations of Slovenian climbers who came to prominence in the 1960s to 1990s. These athletes were key players in the dramatic changes overtaking the sport of alpinism as it evolved from a nationalist, state-sponsored activity to a more individual and commercialised one, with documentaries, energy bars and branded jackets, not to mention the opening of Everest to weekend climbers and those in mid-life crises. The same years saw a move from huge, months-long siege-style expedition climbs with dozens of high altitude porters and tons of equipment, to the light and fast style that at its most extreme ends up in solo ascents with only what you can carry in a backpack, up and down mountain in a few days. The idea being that the faster you move, the less danger you’re exposed to in terms of the elements.
One of the names in that book, a controversial one, is Tomo Česen, the father of Aleš Česen, who in August 2018 was part of a Slovenian-British expedition that also featured Luka Stražar and Tom Livingston. The trio became the first to conquer the north face of Latok I (7,145 meters), part of the central Karakoram mountain range in Pakistan, and at the time widely viewed as the most coveted prize in high-altitude climbing. It was a feat that won them the 2019 Piolet d'Or, the top award in mountaineering.
Luckily for armchair adventurers, their ascent was captured on video, with the footage shot by the three climbers, along with Urška Pribošič and Jure Niedorfer, with the latter pair also responsible for editing and post-production work. Even luckier, the whole thing is on Vimeo, and you can see it below.
Among other things, Noah Charney is the author of Slovenology, which you can get a paper or ebook copy of so you can enjoy Slovenia wherever you are
Back in 2015, I wrote an article for the American magazine, The Atlantic, introducing American readers to someone who was arguably the greatest skier in history: Tina Maze. That was during her epic season, in which she accumulated more points than anyone, male or female, ever had, and it was prior to her Sochi Olympics success. Americans don’t follow skiing and so had to have explained to them both what the sport is and who Tina Maze is. I helped them imagine her dominance in skiing through a parallel they would understand: I likened her to Michael Jordan.
Well, now there’s another Slovenian athlete who can only be liked to Michael Jordan and LeBron James, the two greatest basketball players of all time. Basketball has pulled ahead of both baseball and football as the most popular sport in America, so Americans need no introduction to it. Nor do they need an introduction to the athlete in question.
I’ll confess that I love a man named Luka. It’s a platonic love, but it’s a type of love all the same. Luka Dončič, whom I’ve never met, brings sunshine and joy into my life. When he performs well, my day is brighter. When he has an off night (or if, as is the case while I’m writing this, he’s nursing an ankle injury), I’m a little bluer and a little distracted. My wife and I share this affection, and I’m comfortable that she loves someone else in this way. In fact, millions do, not only Mavericks fans. Luka has a euphoria about him that is infectious. So many athletes, no matter how good, seem in it for the money. Luka is making tons of it, of course, but he has a childlike enthusiasm, a levity that is spreads to those who see him play. That is not what we expect from professional top athletes.
Luka has dominated headlines as much as he has dominated the courts on which he has played. His comparable statistics at age 20 are in line only with Jordan and James. If he continues at this level, barring catastrophic injury and even without improving (as he surely will with experience), then by the time he retires, he will be remembered as the greatest. His talent, numbers and command are already there. He out-LeBron-ed LeBron James, his childhood idol, a few games back, leading his Dallas Mavericks to victory over the first-place, James-led Lakers. His Mavericks are, amazingly, currently the best offensive team in NBA history, and that is without the co-headlining star, Latvian “unicorn” Kristaps Porzingis, playing particularly well, and without a third All-Star player—just Luka and a very deep, talented, balanced team. All Luka needs to do is to avoid a freak injury and keep on going. The smart money is on him, in a decade or so, being dubbed the best basketball player in history.
He is just 20 years old but, having played with Real Madrid in the Euro League (the second-best league in the world after the NBA) for years prior to being drafted by the Mavericks a year ago, he has the experience and calm on the court of a veteran. In the US, he cannot even order a beer (you must be 21 to drink alcohol there), but he is blazing statistical trails and has drawn effusive praise from players and commentators across the board. Last season, his rookie year, he came in second in All-Star votes, behind only LeBron. That popularity comes from a combination of his skill and domination, mixed with that joy. He is totally unpretentious and humble, while totally confident (a rare combination among top athletes). He is clearly having fun. It’s easy to forget that professional athletes are grownups being paid huge sums of money to play games. It’s a pretty sweet deal. Baseball star Willie Mays is credited with a quote that getting paid to play baseball is like getting paid to eat ice cream. Luka might say something similar about basketball. And the fun he is having is passed forward to his fans. That is why he has admirers far beyond the followers of his team.
?Slovenian NBA star Luka Dončić (@dallasmavs) has become an ambassador of Slovenia's tourism?— Feel Slovenia (@SloveniaInfo) January 16, 2020
?He will promote the country's unique attractions and investment opportunities.
?Slovenia will also be included in the @NBAAllstar game!#ifeelsLOVEnia #TexasFeelSlovenia pic.twitter.com/tgCAS7t15a
I’m inordinately proud of our Slovenian athletes. I often hear “considering how small a nation we are” as the precursor to “we’re remarkably good at sports,” and it’s true. Slovenia has a miniscule pool of citizens to draw from and relatively poor resources to support them, when compared to other countries, yet still we produce world-class athletes, Olympians, record holders, gold medalists. We are underdogs due to our size and budgets, and still we win, against the odds. This makes us a joy to cheer for. At the moment, Luka is at the summit of a sport which Europeans are not supposed to be as good at as Americans (especially white Europeans). That compounds Luka’s success and elevates it.
For us fans, this special type of love for an athlete we’ve never met is a strange but wonderful cocktail. There’s pride mixed in (for an underdog from Slovenia), hope (we want him to do well and check news on him constantly), sympathy (we feel down when he is down, we feel on a high when he succeeds), and a sense of good fortune. How lucky we are that we get to watch this sporting genius, already seemingly at the peak of his powers and the zenith of the game, but only 20 years old, and capable of playing, even improving, over the next 10-15 years.
How often can someone we’ve never met, who lives thousands of kilometers away, bring us such joy? Grab your Dončič jerseys and enjoy the ride. It will be a long and glorious one.
A Slovene version of this article first appeared in Playboy. Noah Charney lives in Italy and Slovenia, and lectures internationally in the subjects of art history and art crime. Learn more at www.noahcharney.com or join him on Facebook. You can also follow the Slovenoogy podcast wherever you get podcasts, with the iTunes link here. The book Slovenology can be found here.
Planica, the highlight of the season may be closed to spectators due to coronavirus, but ski jumpers are continuing to jump, and Slovenians are still making the podium.
Yesterday, in Lillehammer, Poland's Kamil Stoch took first place in the Raw Air Tournament, with jumps of 131.5 m and 139.5 m and 264.3 points, while Žiga Jelar was second (259 points) and Timi Zajc third (257.6). Not in the top three, but adding the team’s overall results, was Monday’s winner, Peter Prevc, in fifth place (253.6 points).
In the finals of the first Individual Competition of the Raw Air Tournament in Lillehammer, Peter Prevc managed to jump to the top and won first Slovenian ski jumping victory of the season and 23rd World Cup victory of his career.
"It's a tough race, the conditions were changing, I'm really happy about the win, I never imagined that I would succeed. I made two really good jumps, the best I can do right now. Three times this year the Slovenians have been on the podium, today we finally got a victory," stated Prevc for the national broadcaster.
Second place went to Markus Eisenbich (GER), and third was Stephan Leyhe (GER).
STA, 23 February 2020 - Norwegian Maren Lundby won the women's individual Ski Jumping World Cup event in Ljubno ob Savinji in the north of the country on Sunday, ahead of Austrian Eva Pinkelnig and Slovenian Nika Križnar.
Jumping 93 and 89 metres (254.8 points) for her 30 career victory, Lundby narrowed her lag behind the overall World Cup leader Chiara Hölzl of Austria to a mere 26 points. Hölzl placed 7th today.
"I like the hill, it's difficult to manage, so I'm very happy to have jumped well twice and celebrate victory on this lovely weekend," commented Lundy on her fourth career win in Ljubno. She placed third with team Norway here on Saturday.
Pinkelnig jumped 92 and 89 metres (252.7 points). She is third in the overall World Cup standings, 127 points behind the leader.
With jumps of 91.5 and 91 metres (250 points), Nika Križnar secured her first podium this season to the enthusiasm of home supporters in Ljubno. She has advanced to 8th overall.
Her compatriot Ema Klinec (242.3) finished 6th after placing third in the first series.
Klinec and Križnar were part of the quartet that secured the second spot for Slovenia in Saturday's team event in Ljubno.
"I can say this is my favourite hill this season as everything fell into place. My jumps were top considering I haven't done that well throughout the season," said Križnar.
* Results: 1 Maren Lundby (Nor) 254.8 (93,0/89.0 m) 2 Eva Pinkelnig (Aut) 252.7 (92,0/89.0 m) 3 Nika Križnar (Slo) 250.0 (91,5/91.0 m) 4 Marita Kramer (Aut) 249.7 (92,0/91.0 m) 5 Sara Takanashi (Jap) 243.8 (88,0/90.0 m) 6 Ema Klinec (Slo) 242.3 (92,5/86.0 m) 7 Chiara Hölzl (Aut) 240.5 (91,0/86.5 m) 8 Silje Opseth (Nor) 238.9 (86,5/89.5 m) 9 Yuka Seto (Jap) 235.8 (88,0/89.0 m) 10 Nozomi Maruyama (Jap) 234.8 (86,5/88.5 m) * Overall World Cup Standings (after 14 out of 21 events): 1 Chiara Hölzl (Aut) 1066 2 Maren Lundby (Nor) 1040 3 Eva Pinkelnig (Aut) 939 4 Sara Takanashi (Jap) 653 5 Katharina Althaus (Ger) 527 6 Marita Kramer (Aut) 475 7 Daniela Iraschko-Stolz (Aut) 448 8 Nika Križnar (Slo) 423 9 Ema Klinec (Slo) 415 10 Juliane Seyfarth (Ger) 377
STA, 22 February 2020 - The Slovenian team finished second in the Ski Jumping World Cup event for women in Ljubno ob Savinji, finishing only behind Austria, as the two-day meet at Savina Ski Jumping Centre started on Saturday with some 8,000 spectators in attendance.
Nika Križnar, Špela Rogelj, Katra Komar and Ema Klinec, who led the standings after the first round, combined for a total of 1,005.1 points, while the Austrians scored 1,008.7.
The second place for Slovenia repeats the success from last year, although this time the women's team was much closer to the first place, which they had to concede to the favoured Austrians.
Led by Chiara Hölzl, who currently leads the World Cup standings, Austria overtook Slovenia to claim the first place, while Norway, headed by the Olympic champion Maren Lundby, were third (960.2).
Križnar had the best performance in the Slovenian team, and the second-best individual result overall. "I had two really excellent jumps today. I tried to do my best ... and the final jump, which was more relaxed, was really good."
Klinec, currently the best Slovenian in the World Cup, said that the home venue had provided her with an additional momentum, "making everything much simpler" and adding that it was "really an excellent competition."
Head coach Zoran Zupančič is satisfied, too. "We had aimed at a podium finish, while being aware that the Austrians are absolute favourites. The girls worked exceptionally hard, they 'exploded', which is what must happen in team events."
The two-day meet in northern Slovenia will conclude on Sunday with an individual competition, which in addition to Klinec and Križnar, two of the top ten competitors this World Cup season, will see another seven Slovenians competing.
Ljubno ob Savinji is hosting the women's World Cup for ninth year in a row, with the organisers expecting that up to 15,000 spectators will show up in the two days.
* Results of the World Cup team event in Ljubno ob Savinji: 1 Austria 1,008.7 points (Iraschko-Stolz 85.5/90, Kramer 85/90, Pinkelnig 93/92, Hölzl 80.5/88.5) 2 Slovenia 1,005.1 (Križnar 92/94, Rogelj 89/86, Komar 83.5/82, Klinec 88.5/89) 3 Norway 960,2 (Odine Ström 86.5/89, Björseth 82.5/75, Opseth 88.5/85, Lundby 84.5/91.5) 4 Germany 916.4 5 Russia 913.4
The Slovenian basketball star Luka Dončić recovered from his ankle injury and managed to debut at the All-Star weekend in Chicago, the second youngest player to appear in an such a game, after LeBron James’ debut in 2005
Dončić first appeared in the Friday Rising Star game as the captain of Team World against Team USA, led by Trae Young. The game ended with a score 151:131 for Team USA. Since Young and Dončić were traded between Atlanta and Dallas in the 2018 draft, the two have been a subject of constant comparisons assessing which team gained more from the swap.
This is perhaps why one of the most memorable and widely shared moments from the match on social media comes from the reaction the two had on Dončić’s successful throw from mid-field in the last seconds of the first half.
Despite the fact that in 2018 neither Dončić and Young were actually the first and second picks, but rather the third and fifth, they are both doing very well and played as All-Star starters in Sunday's final match between Team LeBron and Team Giannis.
The fourth quarter of the game was very intense but unfortunately Luka didn't play in it. This year's rules, in memory of a recently diseased Kobe Bryant, stipulated that the last quarter be played when either of the teams reached the sum of the leading team's score by the end of third quarter plus 24 points, with 24 being the number on Bryant's jersey. The final result was 157:155 for Team LeBron; of these Dončić scored 8 points and contributed four passes.
Over the weekend Dončić also met President Obama and Michael Jordan. Of the latter he said: "I was too nervous. I forgot to ask for a picture."
STA, 16 February 2020 - Slovak Alpine skier Petra Vlhova won Sunday's women's World Cup race in Slovenia's Kranjska gora, also bagging the overall Golden Fox trophy following a second place in Saturday's giant slalom. The best Slovenian skier was Meta Hrovat, who finished 11th after a third place in the giant slalom.
Vlhova secured her 14th career win with an aggressive second run, attacking from fourth after the first. Sweden's Anna Swenn Larsson, who had the best first half of the race, was well on her way to beating Vlhova, but crashed just a few gates before the finish line.
Second place in Kranjska Gora, which stood in for Maribor as the traditional Golden Fox venue, went to Wendy Holdener of Swizerland (+0.24) and third to Katharina Truppe from Austria (+0.89).
Another Slovenian to finish in the points along with Hrovat (+2.67) was Ana Bucik in 22nd place (+3.54).
STA, 15 February 2020 - Slovenian skier Meta Hrovat was third at the Golden Fox FIS World Cup giant slalom event in Kranjska Gora on Saturday, sharing the result with Swiss Wendy Holdener. First place went to Alice Robinson of New Zealand, while Slovak Petra Vlhova was second.
Vlhova was 0.34 seconds slower that Robinson, whereas Hrovat's and Holdener's gap was 1.59 seconds. Federice Brignone, the overall giant slalom world cup leader, was eighth.
This was the second world cup podium for Hrovat, a Kranjska Gora native. She was third in the 2018 Lenzerheide giant slalom.
Slovenian Tina Robnik came in sixth, while Ana Bucik was 14th.
* Results: 1 Alice Robinson (NZL) 1:54.32 57.70 56.62 2 Petra Vlhova (SVK) 1:54.66 +00.34 57.46 57.20 3 Meta Hrovat (SLO) 1:55.91 +01.59 58.23 57.68 4 Wendy Holdener (SUI) 1:55.91 +01.59 58.32 57.59 5 Marta Bassino (ITA) 1:55.92 +01.60 58.35 57.57 6 Tina Robnik (SLO) 1:55.97 +01.65 58.41 57.56 7 Michelle Gisin (SUI) 1:56.10 +01.78 58.42 57.68 8 Federica Brignone (ITA) 1:56.36 +02.04 58.40 57.96 9 Tessa Worley (FRA) 1:56.50 +02.18 58.94 57.56 10 Sara Hector (SWE) 1:56.51 +02.19 58.86 57.65 World Cup standings -Overall POINTS 1 Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) 1225 2 Federica Brignone (ITA) 1112 3 Petra Vlhova (SVK) 971 4 Marta Bassino (ITA) 711 5 Wendy Holdener (SUI) 623 6 Corinne Suter (SUI) 617 7 Viktoria Rebensburg (GER) 556 8 Michelle Gisin (SUI) 489 9 Sofia Goggia (ITA) 479 10 Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI) 390 -Giant Slalom: POINTS 1 Federica Brignone (ITA) 407 2 Petra Vlhova (SVK) 333 3 Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) 314 4 Marta Bassino (ITA) 309 5 Alice Robinson (NZL) 300
STA, 9 February 2020 - Slovenian Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) has won this year's Tour of Valencia, having won stages two and four of the race earlier this week. This is another major success for the 21-year-old cyclist after he placed third at his first Grand Tour, La Vuelta last September, when he claimed the white jersey as the best young cyclist.
Today's 98-km stage from Paterna to Valencia was won by Dutch Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck - Quick Step), but Pogačar managed to keep the overall lead for his third one-week race victory of his career. A year ago he won the Tour of Algarve in Portugal and last May the Tour of California in the US.
Pogačar secured the overall victory by winning yesterday's queen stage with the finish on the mountainous Sierra de Bernia, after paving the way to the success with Thursday's win of stage two, when he defeated Spanish Alejandro Valverde, one of the most successful road racing cyclists at the moment.
"After all the effort put in during the winter to get ready for the new season, this victory means tremendously to me. This is really something exceptional." Pogačar believes to be well prepared, yet not as much as at La Vuelta last year, when he placed behind fellow Slovenian winner Primož Roglič and second-placed Valverde.
* Overall standings 1. Tadej Pogačar (SLO/UAE Team Emirates) 18:43:00 2. Jack Haig (AUS/Mitchelton-Scott) + 0:06 3. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GB/Ineos) the same time 4. Dan Martin (IRL/Israel Start-up) 0:13 5. Dylan Teuns (BEL/Bahrain - McLaren) 0:23 6. Wout Poels (NED/Bahrain - McLaren) 0:25 7. Ion Izagirre (ESP/Astana) 0:32 8. Ruben Fernandez (ESPFundacion - Orbea) 0:49 9. Oscar Rodriguez (ESP/Astana) 1:11 10. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/Movistar) 1:14 ... 14. Jan Polanc (SLO/UAE Team Emirates) 1:36 24. Matej Mohorič (SLO/Bahrain - McLaren) 3:23 77. Luka Mezgec (SLO/Mitchelton-Scott) 17:42
Luka Dončić has been chosen as James LeBron's third pick to play alongside his childhood idol in the 2020 All-Star game on Sunday, February 16 in Chicago.
The rosters of both teams as drafted by their captains, James LeBron and Giannis Antetokounmpo, are as follows:
Starters: (in order drafted): Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Luka Dončić, James Harden
Reserves: Damian Lillard, Ben Simmons, Nikola Jokić, Jayson Tatum, Chris Paul, Russel Westbrookm, Domantas Sabonis
Starters: Joel Embiid, Pascal Siakam, Kemba Walker, Trae Young
Reserves:Khris Middleton, Bam Adebayo, Rudy Gobert, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, Brandon Ingram, Donovan Mitchell
Before this draft Luka expressed a wish to play as a teammate of his childhood hero LeBron, and now that wish seems to be coming true. It is not yet entirely clear whether Dončić will also actually be able to play due to his injured ankle, which he sprained about a week ago. According to some estimates, however, Dončić will be ready to play for the All-Star game a week from now and LeBron seems to be counting on Luka's recovery.
The game starts on Sunday, February 16, at 8:20 PM UTC+5. That is Monday morning at 2:20am in Slovenia.