A Serbian Sporting Legend

A couple of days ago I met Igor Milanović, who many experts consider the greatest water polo player ever. We were looking for a new apartment and our real estate agent showed us an apartment for rent owned by Igor.

Water polo is huge in Serbia a and the region, and Serbia is usually one of the best teams in the world. They won bronze at London 2012. The two greatest water polo nations are Serbia and neighbor Hungary.

Milanović’s career achievements are amazing! He won 2 Olympic Gold Medals (LA 1984 and Seoul 1988) and 2 World Championships (1986, 1991). He would have probably won more, but Yugoslavia was banned from international competition during the war.

Igor played 340 games for Yugoslavia, scoring over 500 goals. The 6 foot 4, 240 pounder, was a powerful player whose coach said could play any position. He was relentless in the pool and inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1996.

He was a really nice guy. He coached Partizan last year and they won the European Club Championship. I asked him how water polo players compare physically to the swimmers, and he said they are two totally different sports. I thought perhaps water polo players would make great swimmers as well.

When I mentioned to my friends that I met him, everyone knew who he was. The Belgrade native is very famous in Serbia. It was an honor to get to speak with him.

I’ve only been to one water polo match in my life and that was for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I’ll try to take the family to see a match this spring.

Owen’s Swimming Lessons

Owen with Coach Nesa, originally uploaded by bill kralovec – May 9, 2009

Owen is taking swimming lessons with the Plivaćki Klub “Free Style.” Plivački means swimming in Serbian. Owen is shown above with his coach, Nenad Milojević. Coach Nenad is showing him how to dive. Swimming and especially water polo is big in Serbia. The lessons take place at the Partizan Water Polo Club pool in the Banjica suburb of Belgrade. The facility is huge, with an Olympic size pool and 1/2 of an Olympic size pool. There are also multiple swimming pools outside that will open on June 1. Besides the pool, the recreational complex houses a table tennis school, a tennis club, and right next door is the RAD professional soccer club.

The Partizan Water Polo Club in Banjica
The Partizan Water Polo Club in Banjica

The lessons are for elementary age students and take place every Saturday and Sunday at 5:00 PM. There are about 20 kids in Owen’s group, with Owen being just about the youngest. The classes cost $40 per month. They spend a lot of time with the kick boards and Owen is developing a good kick and back stroke with the board. He is also starting the fundamentals of the free style and sort of diving. He is improving rapidly. Serbia always in medal contention for water polo so I hope it rubs off on Owen.

Typical European changing rooms – unisex, with men and women right next to each other. It is no big deal here, but in Puritan USA, it would be a scandal. They are separate rooms with no doors and everyone respects each others’ privacy.

We want Owen to feel safe in water and these classes will hopefully help him do that. He is very coachable, and I see him doing a lot of laps compared to the other kids, who sometimes are off-task. Nenad and his assistants do a good job of getting the kids to not fear the water and develop good fundamentals. The classes also give me a chance to work on my Serbian lessons. I take my book along and do a lesson while Owen is in the pool. Nenad (Nesha for short), wants to practice his English with me and always helps with my Serbian.

I highly recommend the swimming club to anyone. Owen is the only foreigner, but we are treated very well by all. That is one thing that everyone always says about the Serbs here in Belgrade, they are really nice.