Speak to any athlete and ask them about a moment that defines their career. Whether it happened five days, five months, five years or even fifty years ago the chances are the memory of that moment is clearly engraved in their minds.
Memorable moments won’t always be the golden ones. They can be hitting a personal best, breaking a national record, snapping up a silver medal or in Slovenian sailor Vasilij Zbogar’s case, winning Olympic bronze in the Laser.
Zbogar won bronze at Athens 2004 and then followed up with a silver at the Beijing 2008. He would be forgiven for fondly remembering the silver medal over the bronze but it’s quite the contrary for the Slovenian as the manner in which he claimed bronze was a momentous triumph. “For me it was definitely one of the biggest challenges of my sporting career,” said Zbogar, looking back on his achievement 12 years ago.
After a slow start racing out of Agios Kosmas Olympic Sailing Centre, Zbogar put together a consistent string of race results in the middle part of the competition to move up into third overall heading into the final race.
Robert Scheidt (BRA) held a commanding lead on 49 points with Andreas Geritzer (AUT) on 58, Zbogar on 63, Paul Goodison (GBR) on 64 and Gustavo Lima (POR) on 69. The competition was wide open with 42-boats contesting the last race of the series.
Even though Zbogar had won two races in the middle of the series, it’s the 13th in the final race that he most fondly recalls. It was his defining moment.
“My Best Olympic race was definitely in Athens , the last race going for the medal,” explained Zbogar. “I was in third place and [Paul] Goodison was following me by one point and then Gustavo Lima.
“I remember that very clearly because it was extremely stressful. It was an extremely important day and I had a lot to lose because I was in third place. There was barely any wind at the beginning but then we started the race and we didn’t make it to the top mark within the time limit and the race was abandoned.
“I had a good position so we had to go through the process again. Finally, we made a good start just two or three minutes before the time limit of the day. At that time there was no Medal Race so all 40-boats were on the starting line and it’s almost impossible to look at the two guys who were fourth and fifth.
“I managed to start well and do the right decisions during the racing and finish in-front of them and I finally got the medal which for Slovenia and Slovenian Sailing was extremely important.”
Zbogar came through in 13th position with Goodison following in 17th and Lima in 19th. Zbogar’s achievements received widespread national attention and he was named Slovenian Sportsman of the Year in 2004.
Goodison finished off the podium but he would have his revenge four years later, winning gold over Zbogar. For Lima, Beijing 2008 saw further disappointment as he dropped out of the podium places in the Medal Race, finishing one point off the podium.