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Faces of Gymnastics: Tin Srbic charts his dramatic route with Tokyo 2020 the target

Publication date : 23/05/2018

Horizontal Bar specialist Tin Srbic has enjoyed a stellar six months. In October 2017 the 21-year-old became the first Croatian, male or female, to be crowned an Artistic Gymnastics World Champion and in March this year he followed it up by recording his highest-ever score en route to gold at the Doha World Challenge Cup. But for the football-mad Srbic, nothing quite compares to the moment he finally realised he had made it as an elite sportsman.

“The (Croatian) Athlete of the Year award (given annually by national sports newspaper Sportske Novosti) is the coolest thing that has happened to me because in second place was Luka Modric,” Srbic laughs, still scarcely able to believe people voted for him ahead of the legendary footballer. “I am a Barcelona fan and it was so good to beat Modric.”

In the aftermath of his historic triumph at the 2017 World Championships in Montreal, Canada, Srbic has met the prime minister of Croatia, hung out with a succession of Olympic stars and appeared on numerous TV and radio shows, but bettering Real Madrid’s Modric remains the high point.

It has been quite some journey to the top for the softly spoken Croat.

“I started training when I was four,” he says, aware of how startling that statement may sound to some. “From four to six years old it was fun, playing around, running. I had training two or three times per week and I knew that was a time I would have fun with my friends. But when I was six the trainers saw I had potential, so they took me to the big gym and I started training every day and it got a bit serious.”

If such dedication and focus at such a young age is not surprising enough, the next part of Srbic’s tale gives notice of his remarkable strength of will.

“I was doing Horizontal Bar aged six, with nothing, just my hands on the bar and I slipped and fell off and broke two bones below my elbow,” he recalls. “When I came back, I had a big fear of Horizontal Bar. I needed quite a bit of time to get rid of that fear.”

A combination of factors ensured the brave Srbic was not lost to the sport before he had even started. First up, he “flew through the air” for the first time and “caught the bar”. From that moment he was hooked. Subsequently, the youngster progressed quickly but it was only when a freak elbow injury hit him, aged 13, that he truly turned his focus to what has become his signature apparatus.

“I had really big pain for a year-and-a-half and I couldn’t do all the other stuff but for some reason I could do the Horizontal Bar, it was the only time where I felt less pain,” he explains.

The final piece of the jigsaw was the presence of 2015 European Horizontal Bar gold medallist Marijo Moznik in the same gym.

“He was the one who started it all,” Srbic says. “He showed us young gymnasts that it was possible from the conditions we had in Zagreb to get to the world-class level. We saw him and thought if he can do it, why can’t we? He was our role model.”

Like Moznik, Srbic has had to fight his way to the top from the beginning. The gym from which the youngster continues to promote Moznik’s legacy still does not have a landing pit. In typical style, Srbic has turned such absence to his advantage.
“We learn all the elements with hard landings, but when you do that you fall a lot of times, so you learn how to land. Then you don’t have fear when it comes to competitions,” Srbic says. “I have seen a lot of gymnasts do all their stuff on pits but then when it comes to hard landings it’s a bit harder for them because they get scared.”

Such experience certainly benefitted the Croatian at the 2017 World Championships. He nailed his landing to perfection – for him the “most important part of the routine” – and ended with a score of 14.433, .200 ahead of London 2012 Olympic champion Epke Zonderland (NED).

The newly crowned World champion had five months off competition after Montreal and the break certainly did not do him any harm. In his first outing this season at the World Challenge Cup in Doha, the Croat once again finished ahead of the field, thanks to a personal best score of 14.800.

August’s European Championships in Glasgow, Scotland and the 2018 World Championships, starting in late October, are Srbic’s major aims for the year – although, he does admit, that he cannot stop his mind from wandering towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

But before all of that, the hometown hero will hope to once again wow the crowds in Osijek, Croatia, as the next leg of the World Challenge Cup gets underway on 24 May. Srbic is the defending Horizontal Bar champion and cannot wait to get out there and continue to do his country proud.

“I train with little kids every day and I try to help them,” Srbic says. “I think my presence in the gym helps them and that is an amazing feeling, to be a role model.”

Tin Srbic (CRO) performs on the Horizontal Bar at the 2017 World Championships.