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Water polo the winner as Serbian Olympic Committee celebrates historic Rio 2016

A view of the winners of the Serbian Olympic Committee gala evening in the presence of NOC president Vlade Divac and IOC member and UWW president Nenad Lalovic (Photo: Nenad Negovanovic)
by Sonja Nikcevic, AIPS Media

BELGRADE, December 30, 2016 – It was a night to remember the tremendous feats of Olympic sport in 2016 as the Serbian Olympic Committee held its annual end of the year gala in Belgrade.

The winners of the night in a star-studded sporting affair were Serbia’s men’s water polo team who had won a historic first ever gold medal as an independent nation at the Olympic Games in Rio and completed 2016 as European Champions, World League Champions and Olympic Champions, which added to last year’s World title from Kazan means that the generation has, in their own words “won it all”. This was the 12th time that Serbia’a water polo team was named Best Team of the Year by the National Olympic Committee.

“This Olympic gold from Rio is our greatest and most treasured achievement. We have been striving towards that gold for generations and in Rio the dream finally came true,” captain Živko Gocić said.

Serbia’s Best Male Athlete of the Year award went to Filip Filipović, who was named MVP of the water polo tournament at Rio 2016, with 19 scored goals. Filipović is set to take over as captain of the national team in 2017, with key players captain Živko Gocić and Slobodan Nikić having retired from the national team in an emotional testimonial match earlier this month.

Taekwondo silver medalist Tijana Bogdanović was pronounced this year’s Best Female Athlete of the Year after a tremendous performance in Rio that saw here lose out on the gold medal by mere seconds. Bogdanović at just 18 years old was the Serbian Olympic Committee’s Young Athlete of the Year in 2015.

“I had a truly amazing year. I have to say that the reason that I’m here holding this trophy is thanks to my coach Dragan Jović, who has done so much for taekwondo in Serbia.”

Tijana’s medal in Rio has brought on a new consistency for Serbian taekwondo after Milica Mandić, also coached by Dragan Jović, won gold at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The Best Coach of the Year award went to water polo’s Dejan Savić, who helped the team deliver under tremendous pressure at Rio 2016. As a player, Savić won Olympic silver and two times Olympic bronze with the national team in London, Beijing and Athens respectively. As a coach, he has won nine medals with the national team, all of them gold.

The Best Yong Player award also came from the swimming pool as 19-year-old Nikola Jakšić was pronounced water polo’s most promising young player, having won every competition he took part in with the national team in 2016.

Serbia’s women’s volleyball team took the award for the Best Female Team of the Year, after bringing home a first ever Olympic silver medal from Rio 2016 after inspired runs in the against USA and Russia to reach an unexpected, but hoped for final with World Cup champions China. Runners up for the Best Female Team of 2016 were Serbia’s basketball ladies who staged a number of upsets to reach a historic bronze for women’s basketball in Rio 2016.

The award for Best Male Athlete in an individual sport went to wrestler Davor Štefanek, who won gold in Rio in the men’s 66kg category and brought Serbia its first wrestling medal in 32 years. Štefanek’s Olympic gold was Serbia’s first medal in Rio after a shaky opening two weeks of the games that started with Novak Djoković losing in the first round of the Olympic tennis tournament and that saw both the men’s waterpolo team and both women’s volleyball and basketball risk early elimination.

Rio 2016 ended with Serbia winning eight medals, the most ever as an independent nation, and doubling its four-medal tally from London 2012. Four of those medals came from team sports, which for many remain the pride of the nation, and which means that all four teams that went to Rio, including men’s water polo and basketball and women’s volleyball and basketball returned home with a medal. Serbia finished the Games in Rio as 32nd on the medal table, but as the delegation with the highest percentage of athletes as medal winners. Serbia’s delegation in Rio counted 103 athletes, out of which 54 were medal winners.

These were just some of the more glittering highlights of Serbia’s 2016 Olympic year presented by outgoing NOC president Vlade Divac and Serbia’s national broadcaster RTS.

The NOC is set to hold rescheduled elections for its Executive Board and president in early 2017.

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