As the Olympics Approach, a Look at Zagreb's Sporting Credentials

By 18 July 2021
As the Olympics Approach, a Look at Zagreb's Sporting Credentials
Lice Grada

July 18, 2021 - Sport may not be one of the things one associates with the Croatian capital, but there is plenty to discover - a look at Zagreb's sporting credentials.

Did you know that Usain Bolt smashed the 100 metres meet record in Zagreb with a run of 9.85 seconds a decade ago?

The longer I live in Croatia, the less I seem to know, and that applies to Zagreb in particular. The more time I spend there, the more layers it reveals to me. 

The summer of sport is upon us, with Euro 2020 behind us and Tokyo 2020 about to begin. It got me thinking about Zagreb as a sporting destination, and a little research showed me just what a diverse sporting calendar the city boasts, with world-class events in a number of disciplines all year round.

Bolt's lightning run in 2011 at the IAAF World Challenge Boris Hanzekovic Memorial was one of the more memorable athletic achievements at Croatia's oldest sporting event, which turns 70 this year. Named after one of Croatia's top sportsmen, Boris Hanzekovic's signature event, the 110m hurdles is commemorated each year, as a wealth of Olympic medal winners, world champions, and other top sporting personalities compete each year in the Croatian capital. 

Looking for symbols of Olympic excellence? Look no further than the Sinkovic brothers, Martin and Valent, Zagreb natives, the siblings took the 2016 Olympic gold in Rio in the Men's Double Skulls, to add to a 2012 silver in London and a number of World Championship medals. Zagreb's rowing tradition pre-dates the Sinkovic brothers by more than a century with the founding of the First Rowing and Fishing Society back in 1872. These days, the rowing focus on the city is on Lake Jarun, which is home to a 2 km rowing trail considered to be among the best in the world. The Croatian Open Regatta in early July opens the season of regattas on Jarun, and international events that have been held there include the Military World Games, the World Student Championships, the World Junior Championships, and in 2021 Zagreb has, for the first time in history, hosted the World Rowing Cup.


Zagreb is also home to the world's oldest competition for another Olympic sport - figure skating. The Golden Pirouette was initiated in 1967. By the time the event celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, it had attracted competitors from 50 countries on five continents, with the 50th edition attracting the world and European champion, Olympic bronze medallist, and European runner up. Golden Pirouette takes place during Advent in Zagreb, a perfect time to visit. 

Golden Pirouette is not the only international figure skating competition to be held in the city. The Zagreb Snowflakes Trophy was inaugurated in 2001 and has been held each year ever since. Recognises by the International Skating Federation (ISU), more than 40 teams from 10 countries take part. 


September sees judo fans from all over the world descend on the city, as the most important International Judo Federation in the region takes place. The annual IJF Judo Grand Prix Zagreb competition has been taking place annually since 2013, attracting world-class competitors from over 40 countries. More than 600 competitors take part, and the competition is broadcast in 109 countries. 

Karate will become an Olympic sport for the first time at Tokyo 2020, and perhaps the future Olympic champion has already demonstrated his/her skills in Croatia. Karate has a long tradition in Zagreb dating back to the 1950s. Today there are an impressive 36 clubs in the city (and 180 in all Croatia), with women's karate just as active and successful as the men's. Many of them come together for the annual Zagreb Karate Fest, which is composed of two parts. The Zagreb Open Championship is an open karate championship for all ages, while the TOP 10 for Women has received the accolade as the greatest karate competition for women in the world. It brings together 10 medal winners from the World and European Championships to compete against each other. There is also a popular encounter between the Croatian national women's team and a world national team. 

Wrestling fans will be looking forward to Tokyo, and many will have had their focus on Zagreb in January for the annual Grand Prix Zagreb, which has attracted some of the world's top wrestlers each year since its inauguration in 2014. This wrestling event in the Greco-Roman style is livestreamed around the world and has grown in popularity each year. So much so that it has had to move location to accommodate the increased interest. It is now held in Hall II of Dom Sportova.  

How many capital cities do you know that hae their own World Ski Cup event? Zagreb is unique in the EU as a capital city where you can ski just minutes from the capital. And where you can ski, you can compete. Croatia has a world-class skiiing pedigree thanks to the antics of Janica and Ivica Kostelic, of course, and some of the world's best make their way to Zagreb in early January for the Snow Queen Trophy, the women's slalom race of the World Ski Cup. It is one of the most popular races on the calendar for participants due to its proxmity to the city, huge support (some 15 - 20,000 fans make it the most popular World Ski Cup event), and the outstanding local hospitality. The Snow Queeen Trophy has been a popular Zagreb sporting event since 2005. 

No city with sporting aspirations would be complete without its own marathon, of course, and Zagreb is no exception. From modest beginnings in 1992 when just 70 runners took part, the Zagreb Marathon now attracts a truly international field of more than 1,000 runners. Due to its elevation, which is no more than 5 metres, it is also one of the fastest marathons in the world, taking partcipants on a picturesque jounrney through the beautiful streets of the city. Zagreb Marathon records are held by two Kenyans, Stellah Jepngetich Barosio (2:30:15) and her compatriot Wycliffe Kipkorir Biwot (2:09:55), who achieved his record fourth victory at the Zagreb event with this result. 

Not every competitive sport makes it to the Olympics, and Zagreb is home to other world-class events which will not be represented in Tokyo. This year saw the arrival of the World Rally Championship. which was held in the city for the first time, thereby putting the Croatian capital very firmly on the world rally map.  The 4-day event covered some 1,300 km, starting and finishing in the city, with 22 special stages, including an indoor race at Zagreb Fair. 

And while the WRC might attract the global headlines, it is only building on an established Zagreb rallying tradition, as local fans will tell you each September. The INA Delta Rally first took place as the Croatia Rally and Croatia Delta Rally in 1974. When in 1992 it received tthe status of a European Championship rally race, it became the first international sports event organised by Croatian organizers in any sport after the independence of the Republic of Croatia.

Tokyo 2020 will soon be upon us, inspiring millions of people around the world. But you do not have to travel to Japan to witness sporting excellence, as Zagreb has excellent opportunities to see the world's sporting elite compete in any number of disciplines. 

Learn more about Zagreb in the TC Zagreb in a Page guide.

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