“I took school for a competition”

At 40, Nikola Karabatic is preparing to compete in his sixth Summer Olympic Games in Paris, with the aim of winning a fourth title. Handball monument, leader of the French team and Paris-Saint-Germain, he will retire after the Games to devote himself, in particular, to the ecological cause.

I wouldn’t have gotten here if…

… If Tito’s Yugoslavia had not authorized athletes aged 29 to try an experience abroad. My father was an international handball player. In 1984, he joined ASL Robertsau, a Strasbourg club which organized a tournament in which he had participated a year earlier. He liked the region, the club too. My mother, who was finishing her medical studies, stayed with me in what is now Serbia, where I was born the same year. We finally joined my father, two years later. Without this exile, I would have grown up in Yugoslavia and probably would have lived through the war [1991-2001] very closely, and not by proxy. I also avoided intra-family problems since part of my family is Croatian and the other Serbian. As an athlete, I would also have had to choose between the Serbian team and the Croatian team, and I would never have worn the French team jersey.

What influence did this father, Branko Karabatic, who died suddenly in 2011, have on you?

I have long wondered where this inner flame came from that pushed me to become a fierce competitor, to the point of wanting to make the history of my sport. Being separated from my father in the first years of my life undoubtedly created a desire to transcend. The family then settled in Frontignan [Hérault]where my father was hired as a municipal employee.

Read also: Nikola Karabatic, handball legend, will retire in 2024, after twenty-two years of career

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He was then my sports teacher at school, my handball coach and my dad at home! I was with him all the time, practicing several disciplines. I grew up with this model. I wanted to make my father proud of me. When traveling, I always take a wedding ring that belonged to him at the bottom of a toiletry bag. It’s a way to keep in touch.

However, he was not gentle with you on the sidelines…

On certain days, he forced me to pass only with my left hand. Other times, I wasn’t allowed to take a shot on goal until all my teammates had scored. On the one hand, he corresponded to the image of these coaches from Eastern countries, tough and rigorous, to whom we owe respect. On the other hand, he was very attentive to his children: he quickly discerned my passion for handball and my desire to succeed. He showered me with exercises and advice to help me progress, in a mixture of generosity and demand. And without ever forcing myself to follow in his footsteps.

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2024-04-14 02:45:07
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