Jan. 29, 2010
CalBears.com spoke to Slovenian Olympia Sara Isakovic a few days before the Golden Bears left on their trip to Los Angeles. Isakovic, who became her country's first European women's champion when she won the 200-meter freestyle in the 2008 European Aquatics Championships, won her country's first Olympic medal with a silver in the 200-meter freestyle in Beijing. During the current college season, Isakovic has posted Cal's fastest time in the 200-yard freestyle with an NCAA B qualifying time of 1:44.95 and Cal's fastest time in the 200-yard butterfly with an NCAA B qualifying time of 1:55.66.
CalBears.com: How is your season going so far?
Sara Isakovic: I'm really happy with my results at all the previous meets. We hadn't raced for a while, so the dual meets we had with both Arizonas were kind of a start to all of the upcoming meets. The results were good, but I'm expecting them to be even better once I get more into competition mode.
CalBears.com: What is your favorite event? Even if it's not your best event...?
SI: My favorite event is my best event, because I just love to swim the 200 freestyle. I think I can improve so much there, especially in yards. This year I'm feeling more comfortable swimming in the short-course pool. In Slovenia I used to train in the winter in a 25-meter pool, but most of my training was in a 50-meter course.
CalBears.com: And you used to live and train in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates...?
SI: I trained and lived five years in Dubai. As a family we moved there because of my father's job as a pilot at Emirates Airlines. We were traveling all around the world before that, and we wanted to settle down. Dubai was the perfect place, especially for me and my twin brother, Gal, who were between 9- and 13-years-old. We went to international school. Training there was challenging because of the weather conditions - it was really hot in Dubai in the water. It was never below 85 degrees in the pool. My mom used to coach me and my brother. My coach in Slovenia used to send my practices to my mother, and she used to carry them out. I spent a lovely childhood in Dubai.
I never trained as much as all my peers at home. I had only six practices per week, and some of my peers back home were training twice a day. That's why we decided in 2002 to move back to Slovenia, because of swimming. That's when I started training twice a day; then my results started improving. I stayed in Slovenia until I finished high school, and then I came here.
CalBears.com: Does your brother still swim competitively?
SI: My brother used to swim until the last year of high school, and then he quit because of his studies. He went to Denmark to a really good aviation center, learning to be a commercial pilot. He's officially now a co-pilot and is flying.
CalBears.com: While Gal followed in your father's footsteps, you followed in your mother's.
SI: I guess I followed in her footsteps. My mom was kind of an inspiration for me when I was little. It's good to have someone who really understands swimming in your family.
CalBears.com: Where do you keep your swimming medals and awards?
SI: My Olympic medal travels around, because my mom never leaves it at home. Now that my brother is situated in Serbia and Belgrade flying, and I'm here, my mom is back in Dubai with my dad. They spend some time in Slovenia and then in Dubai, so my Olympic medal travels the way they travel. I still need to figure out where I'm going to keep it that's special. I have a place for all my medals and trophies, and some of them, the special ones, are hanging there. I have so many; a lot of them are sitting in a box in Bled.
CalBears.com: What did you earn as part of Cal's national championship last season?
SI: We got an NCAA championship ring. It's so beautiful. For me of course it means a lot. I've never been a part of something really; I saw swimming as an individual sport. Coming here to Cal, it was so special because it's really a team sport. Having the chance to win the NCAA championship, with a team I'm in love with and care so much about, and getting this special ring, it's amazing. That was a lovely present, but nothing is really as valuable as the memories and the victories when you were actually there.
CalBears.com: Are you recognized in Slovenia especially after you compete and do well in big meets?
SI: Slovenia is so small - we have two million people - that everyone knows everyone. I love talking to everyone, too. I'm a normal person. In Slovenia, people love me and respect my accomplishments, so whenever something big happens, it's all over the news. I come to the airport and there's, not millions of people waiting for me, but a few hundred come, and they show their respect and appreciation. It's really nice to see that.
CalBears.com: Are you looking forward to the 2010 European Championships in Hungary in August?
SI: For sure I'm going to be motivated. I'm going to do my best. I'm targeting some new national records. Last year was difficult for me, because I was getting used to the whole program, how we're training, school, so last year's summer (in the World Championships and World University Games) was less successful. I was 13th in the world at the end in my best event, and everyone was expecting more from me, a silver medalist in Beijing. My results weren't bad, but I guess I wasn't as in good a shape as I was before the Olympics.
But this year is different. I have my own apartment. I cook my own food. I'm more relaxed in classes. I know how everything looks like and I'm used to the training, too. I'll stay here half of the summer and train with the girls and then go back for Europeans.
I'm definitely excited about the rest of my career, because I've never been more excited about swimming as I am now.
CalBears.com: Do you have any hobbies or favorite TV shows?
SI: I don't really have time for hobbies; right now it's just sleeping, studying and swimming. And I don't really watch too much TV; there's not any time for it.
CalBears.com: Did you watch Natalie Coughlin on "Dancing with the Stars"?
SI: I did watch that. When I have time, I do like to watch musical shows, like "American Idol." They make me happy. Back home, I watched the Croatian version of "Dancing with the Stars." They're our neighboring country. Gordan Kozulj, one of the really good Croatian swimmers who used to also swim here was on "Dancing with the Stars" at the same time Natalie was competing here. He was in the finals and was second. He was amazing.
CalBears.com: Your nickname is "Ice" because the team initially mispronounced your last name?
SI: My teammates asked me, "Isn't it ICE-uh-coe-vich?" "No, it's ee-SOCK-oh-vich." Teri said, "Let's just call her 'Ice.'"