Golden Paralympics Star from Vukovar: After the Accident my Goal was to be Independent, Table Tennis was far from my Mind

Total Croatia News

After the accident all of Croatia was with me and helped me in many ways, and this gold is a way to pay that back

For the first time at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro the Croatian anthem was played after table tennis player Sandra Paović won gold, beating in the finals German Stephanie Grebe with 3-0 (11-2, 11-7, 11-4), Jutarnji List reported on September 13, 2016.

For Croatia this is the fourth gold in history after Antonija Balek in Beijing won in shot put and javelin, and Darko Kralj in shot put.

“I am very happy and excited. I came to get the gold and I did. Did the work I had to. I was calm and concentrated and we prepared well tactically,” said the current world and two-time European champion who is undefeated for over two and a half years.

Paović and Grebe played each other 12 times before and every time the Croatian player won.

“Regardless of that fact I didn’t relax for a single moment. I prepared for this final as if we are playing for the first time and played without any mistakes,” she added.

Sandra travelled to Brazil as the prime candidate for gold and held out through the pressure.

“This medal is a great relief for me. I cannot explain the level of stress I went through these days. What if I lose and everyone expects me to win. Those are questions you cannot get out of your head. I played the entire tournament carefully, maybe a little too carefully all the way to the finals, but I enjoyed the finals. I said to myself, let your hand go, you are better and stronger and I proved that,” she confessed.

Paović joined the Paralympics family after a traffic accident in January of 2009. A year earlier she attended the Olympics in Beijing where she was defeated in the 2nd round. She was a multiple Croatian champion, playing for clubs in Switzerland, Germany and France. Sandra won the bronze in 2000 at the European Championship in Bremen in mixed couples with Roko Tošić and has a team silver from the EC 2005 in Aarhus.

“After the accident my goal was to be independent, I didn’t ponder table tennis at all. However, when I was back on my feet I tried to play again. After the accident all of Croatia was with me and helped me in many ways, and this gold is a way to pay that back,” said 33-year-old from Vukovar who was named best para table tennis player in the world two years ago, and from June 2014 hold the first place in the world rankings in her disability category.

Sandra wanted to thank especially her coach Nataša Skočilović and Mirela Šikoronja whom she works with at the national team, and Neven Cegnar.

“Neven was with me every day for 15 years while I was nutty and crazy. He survived every kind of me and taught me everything. In a way this is his victory too.”

Of course, a special greeting went to husband Danijel Lazov who was in the stands at her matches in Rio.

“Danijel was fantastic support, calm although I know he was nervous within. My wish is for him to make it to the Paralympics in Tokyo,” Paović said. Lazov was also an athlete, perspective soccer player, who received similar injuries after a head first jump into the Sutla river in 2006, stranding him in a wheelchair.

Sandra’s gold caused great excitement in the Croatian camp, especially since this is the first medal for Croatian table tennis in the history of Paralympics.

“We waited and welcomed the first gold in Rio, but also the first gold for Croatian table tennis. We were all very emotional during Sandra’s finale,” said President of the Paralympics Committee Ratko Kovačić, a former table tennis player himself.

“There is no greater happiness in the table tennis team than this medal. Sandra was tired and under stress as a favourite, but she played the finals perfectly,” added selector Emil Gubica, while main coach Mirela Šikoronja added: “I don’t know what to say from happiness. It was a phenomenal match, tactically played great. She played smart. Sandra is a terrific fighter and great worker and this medal is a crown of her work,” said Šikoronja.


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