Thirty years since Slovenia’s first Olympic medal

Ljubljana – Today marks 30 years since Slovenia won the first Olympic medal as an independent country. Rowers Iztok Čop and Denis Žvegelj won bronze in the finals of coxless pairs, and the next day Jani Klemenčič, Sadik Mujkič, Sašo Mirjanič, and Milan Janša also came third in the coxless four event.

“In 1992, I did not perceive winning the medal as I would have later in my career when I was more mature. Our first goal was to win a medal, and the second to finish first. That is why Denis and I might not have been as happy with the end result. Nevertheless, I remember the great national pride we felt and exuded,” Čop said about their performance.

Čop and Žvegelj won their first medal, silver, in the coxless pairs category at the World Championship in Vienna in the summer of 1991, the year Slovenia gained its independence. They rowed in a boat representing the former Yugoslavia, but accepted the medal displaying the Slovenian tricolour.

Independent Slovenian performances in major competitions were only possible later, after Slovenia’s independence was recognised.

On 17 January 1992, the then president of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, informed the Slovenian Olympic Committee that Slovenia will be allowed to compete at the Winter Olympics in Albertville that year on the basis of provisional recognition.

Slovenia did not podium in Albertville, but it did win two bronze medals at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona that same year.

Čop went on to become one of Slovenia’s most successful athletes. He set another milestone on 23 September 2000 at the Sydney Olympics where he and Luka Špik won the first Olympic gold for Slovenia in the double scull event.

Just a few hours later Rajmond Debevec also won gold in shooting.

In 2020, 23 September was declared Slovenian Sports Day in their honour.