From Water Polo to Rowing, Will Fitness Trainer Pero Kuterovac be Behind Croatia’s Olympic Success?

Daniela Rogulj

Updated on:

Emica Elvedji / PIXSELL
Emica Elvedji / PIXSELL

Pero Kuterovac is a great strength for the Croatia water polo team – and his qualities in the fitness training of athletes are known outside of water polo. Pero Kuterovac was directly involved in three Croatia medals in Rio, including Damir Martin, who later, according to one study, was the most prepared athlete in Rio. He also worked with boxer Filip Hrgović, reports Sportske Novosti

For Tokyo, Kuterovac is again involved in three sports, and only one change has occurred.

“Yes, I worked with water polo players again, as well as with Damir Martin, but now swimming is the third sport because I worked with swimmer Nikola Miljanić before Tokyo.”

Before the Games, Kuterovac advocates the thesis that the best results will be achieved by those who are the best to adapt to the unusual circumstances and all that they bring in terms of compliance.

“It will be something we are not used to. Admittedly, behind all of us is a season in which we learned what it means to be in a bubble, under measures. However, our mentality does not allow some prohibitions. We are all professionals, and we will do it all. But when the Chinese are told they have to sit there for three days, they sit and do not move. With us, it’s a little harder. However, there is too much in the game; these are the Olympic Games, for which water polo players have been preparing painstakingly hard. Just take that we spent seven weeks in preparation, there was so much torment and tears, but we knew why we were doing all this. Now we are all a bit nervous and crazy, but we will channel everything, endure everything, arm ourselves with nerves because we have a big goal ahead of us.”

Kuterovac has experience with athletes from different sports. Can he say firsthand how much harder it is for water polo players to prepare for a big competition than others?

“Water polo is the most demanding team sport. First, there is the highest energy consumption, then everything takes place in water, and this is not a medium that is specific to man, and thirdly, there is a lot more to train here than with land sports. In some shock microcycles, we now know how to train for eight hours a day. First, there was gym, swimming, then water polo. It’s challenging, difficult, but there’s a goal above all; it’s the biggest motivator for a serious athlete. It was not difficult for me to motivate them to work; they did everything to the maximum. I am delighted that no one had any problems with injuries, and I take credit for that because we worked very hard on prevention. Athletes don’t like to do prevention, those stupid and boring things, but I insist on that. Every lost day due to stretching can be disastrous for our ultimate goal. And that is always a medal for us.”

What secrets does Pero Kuterovac use in working with the best athletes?

“I’m a little different than everyone here. I’m quite talented; I’d say creative in manipulating people; I get into their heads easily. For example, Andro Bušlje and Maro Joković are here with about fifty medals won. Still, with them, it is the same as when I work individually, for example, with Bojan Bogdanović, who earns a lot of money. And that makes me successful because emotional and social intelligence at this level of sport is more important than anything. And I’m pretty good at it.”

You mentioned Bušlje, Joković, Bogdanovć; they all turned 30. Do athletes work more when they are older than in their formative years?

“That’s right, and that’s, unfortunately, wrong. When they suffer an injury, they are cathartic. In general, the body is such that when you are younger, you recover faster; you can not sleep all night and train normally tomorrow. When you get to some more serious years, it’s different. Contrary to some books, I think the first threshold for that is 27 years, and then comes the threshold of 33, 34 years. So there are already some things to do more and in more detail, to take more care of recovery, training planning is different.”

Pero Kuterovac will be at his sixth Games in Tokyo. From Sydney until now, he has always been part of the Croatian delegation. How satisfied would he be with a medal in Tokyo?

“Somehow, I think there should not be less than five, and ideally, there should be eight. That’s my estimate, but I hope I made a mistake, and there will be ten like Rio. Five, I say, should be with us because we have some athletes who dominate, such as the Sinković brothers, Sandra Perković, and Tin Srbić. Something is always won in archery, now there is a chance in martial arts, and there is, of course, water polo. So five minimum, eight would be great.”

And finally, what kind of Damir Martin can we expect in Tokyo?

“Damir had a severe hip injury; he was in surgery in Munich, after which it took nine months to recover. For him, the pandemic turned out well because if the Games had been as planned last year, he would not have been able to perform. Since January, he is completely ready in every segment; there is no pain, there are no obstacles. In some of our tests, he almost returned to the level he had in 2016 in strength, power, endurance, speed endurance. I am looking forward to Damir’s performance, and I think it will be a very nice surprise.”

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