STA, 3 July - Slovenian NBA star Luka Dončić recently held his first news conference after the Covid-19 pandemic. He said in a videoconference that he was in good shape and could not wait to return to the court. He highlighted the role US Ambassador to Slovenia Lynda C. Blanchard played in helping him return to his homeland during the outbreak.
The 21-year-old returned to Dallas, Texas almost two weeks ago to start preparing for a tentative comeback of the 2019-2020 NBA season after spending lockdown in Slovenia. The NBA is expected to resume on 30 July.
"The league is doing all it can to make sure that all the participants would not feel any consequences. Every two days we are tested and everyone is taking care of our health," Dončić said.
He has never considered sitting out the season; he missed basketball a lot and just wants to play, he told the reporters, adding that he had full trust in the NBA system but was of course concerned about the situation as much as the next person.
Recently there was a misunderstanding regarding his shape which raised some dust in the US sports world - Dončić's personal trainer was mistranslated as saying the NBA star had gained some weight during his two months in Slovenia.
Dončić dismissed any such rumours, highlighting he was in good shape and would only get better when the season restarted.
The 2018-2019 NBA Rookie of the Year told the press that he maintained his shape during lockdown by playing tennis and football. He was glad he could spend some time with his friends and family in Slovenia and again thanked the US ambassador for helping him make that happen as well as for assisting him in returning back to the US.
The Dallas Mavericks small forward will be soon experiencing another lockdown, an NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida where NBA players are to be isolated from the rest of the world. The Dallas Mavericks are eyeing the playoffs, with Dončić saying that their chemistry would only grow.
The NBA star used the time in Slovenia to heal the minor injuries he was struggling with prior to the season suspension. "I think the break helped. I think a lot of people had some small injuries, they weren't 100%."
"Obviously the [hardest] thing for me was not being able to play basketball," he replied about being asked about the biggest quarantine challenges.
Before the corona suspension, Dončić had an average of 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game.
STA, 5 June 2020 - The national football championship will resume on Friday after being on hold for almost three months due to the coronavirus outbreak, albeit without spectators. All first league players have tested negative for Covid-19 and are ready to go, but it is expected that they will need a game or two to return to top form.
Entering the pitch first today will be players of Aluminij and Mura, and this match will be followed by a Celje-Rudar encounter in the evening.
The national championship was halted in mid-March after 25 out of the 36 scheduled matches played. Olimpija Ljubljana leads the standings with 50 points, ahead of Celje and Aluminij (45 each). The defending champions Maribor are fourth at 43 points.
Olimpija's Ante Vukušić, who is tied at the top of the scorer standings this season, has told the STA that the team is getting back in shape and that it would need a game or two to get to the top of its game.
The Croatian believes that Celje is the top contender for the title. "They have played well, and the coach has constructed the team very well. They are difficult to play," he said, adding that the other competitors were close as well.
"Maribor has gotten an injection of fresh blood with the new coach and director of football and will be very motivated. But all is up to us and I think there will be no major problems," Vukušić believes.
"We have shown the most so far. We have the best starting line-up in the country. I don't underestimate anyone but we know that we have the quality to win it all," he added.
The schedule is complete and matches in the first league are expected to conclude on 22 July, followed by the play-off matches for the survival in the elite division and/or advancement from the second division.
The national cup competition will resume next week. The cup semi-finals will be played on 9 and 10 June, and the final on 24 June, all of them on the neutral pitch of the National Football Centre in Brdo pri Kranju, also without spectators.
The second league for men and the first league for women had been ended in mid-May.
To be promoted from the second league is Koper, the club which topped the standings before the epidemic. The second-placed Gorica will enter play-offs with the club which finishes ninth in the premier league.
The women's premier league ended without the official champion declared. The decision on which club will represent Slovenia in European competitions in the next season will be based on past results.
STA, 18 May 2020 - Marko Elsner, one of the greatest Slovenian football players of all time, has died at the age of 60 after battling a severe illness for several years. One of his finest moments was winning an Olympic bronze medal with the Yugoslav team in 1984.
Born in Ljubljana in 1960, Elsner first played for the youth team of the Austrian club Wacker Innsbruck before returning to the home town to play with Slovan and then joining Olimpija Ljubljana in 1977.
In 1983, he was signed on by the Yugoslav powerhouse Red Star Belgrade and played with them four seasons. In this period he became a national team player, and was part of the Yugoslav team at the 1984 Olympics, winning the bronze medal.
The feisty defender went international in 1987, when he was acquired by Nice, playing a total of 105 games for the French club and scoring six goals. He returned to Austria in 1990 and finished his career in France in 1993.
Elsner played for the Yugoslav national team in 1984-1988, earning 14 caps, and also for the Slovenian team after the nation gained independence, making two caps - against Cyprus in November 1992 and against Estonia in April 1993.
He came from a football family, with his late father Branko Elsner (1929-2012) being one of the best Slovenian football coaches and officials.
His brother Brane was a long-serving member of the Slovenian Football Association, and his elder son Luka was the first Slovenian to be appointed the head coach of a club in the French top football league (Amiens).
STA, 13 May 2020 - The government decided on Wednesday to allow a majority of sports activities to resume as of 23 May, including practices and recreation in indoor facilities, and trainings and competitions in team sports.
The decree does not apply to fitness and wellness centres and swimming pools, with the exception for the latter applying to registered athletes, government spokesman Jelko Kacin told the STA, adding that outdoor water sports, for example rowing, would also be allowed.
Prime Minister Janez Janša tweeted earlier in the day that competitions in team sports would be allowed to resume on 23 May.
Commenting on the decision, Slovenian Football Association (NZS) president Radenko Mijatović said this was a "great relief for football and sport in general". He added that the NZS was planning to organise the first matches in June.
"We have already had talks with clubs, and their wish was that at least four weeks of practice are held before the first official matches. This means that we plan to organise them in the first or second week of June," he told the STA.
"This decision means a lot for football in Slovenia from the competition aspect, as we the [national] champion and participants in European competitions will be decided on the pitch," Mijatović added.
On Monday, the NZS decided to continue with the premier league and the national cup for men, depending on the situation related to the epidemic, while ending the second league for men and the first league for women.
Registered athletes in individual sports are already allowed to train in outdoor facilities, with the exception of facilities belonging to educational institutions, and to participate in competitions up to the national level.
As of 23 May, team competitions and practices in facilities belonging to educational institutions will also be allowed, as well as extracurricular sport education of children and youth.
All activities must be carried out in adherence to public health rules issued and without spectators.
STA, 11 May 2022 - Tone Škarja, a professional climber considered one of the pillars of Slovenian mountaineering, has died. The 83-year-old, famous for numerous challenging expeditions, was also a mountain guide, author and photographer.
His death was confirmed on Monday by Matjaž Šerkezi of the Slovenian Alpine Association (PZS).
Škarja, who had been a member of the organisation since 1951, started pursuing mountaineering professionally in 1956. He completed more than 1,000 alpine ascents, including participating in more than 30 trailblazing expeditions.
The 83-year-old was also part of the Yugoslavian Mount Everest expedition in 1979. The mostly Slovenian team scaled the world's highest peak by climbing the western ridge, still unexplored by then.
Later that year, Škarja received the Bloudek Award, Slovenia's most prestigious sports accolade, for the achievement. Together with another legendary climber, Aleš Kunaver, who passed away in the 1980s, he led the successful expedition, the PZS organisation said.
Škarja was also the head of the Kamnik mountain rescue team as well as the chairman of the PZS commission of foreign expeditions. Moreover, he was vice-president of the association between 1998 and 2011.
The Slovenian segment of the Nepal International Mountain Museum was set up and managed by Škarja.
Viki Grošelj, a climber who has scaled the most eight-thousanders among the Slovenian mountaineering elite and the first Slovenian to have climbed the highest summits of all the continents, has responded to today's sad news by highlighting the important role Škarja played in promoting Slovenia's mountaineering and raising it to the highest level.
"I was deeply hurt and shaken by the news of his death, but not completely unprepared since Škarja had been ill for quite some time," Grošelj said, adding that the departed was a mentor and a role model to numerous generations of climbers.
All our stories on mountaineering in Slovenia are here
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