Dubai: Ivana Spanovic of Serbia and Yasmani Copello Escobar from Turkey picked up the ‘Balkan Athlete of the Year’ awards at a glittering function held at Atlantis The Palm, late on Saturday.
Shaikh Ahmad Hasher Al Maktoum, the only Olympic gold medallist from the UAE, was the chief guest along with Saeed Hareb, General Secretary, Dubai Sports Council (DSC) and Ahmad Al Kamali, President, UAE Athletics Federation (UAE AF), IAAF Council Member and President, GCC Athletics Federation (GCC AF).
Spanovic and Escobar were among the seven medallists from the Balkan region of 17 countries, at this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. In the women’s long jump final in Rio, Spanovic was the first woman to clear the 7-metre mark (7.08mts). However, she had to eventually settle for a bronze behind Tianna Bartoletta (7.17mts) and Brittney Reese (7.15mts).
“This award that I am winning for the third time is recognition for the effort and hard work that I have put in to reach so far,” Spanovic told Gulf News.
“And it’s also a reminder that sport is all about the passion and motivation that goads us along the way to achieving greater things. I know the future is bright,” she added.
Escobar, who now lives and represents his adopted Turkey, won bronze in the 400 metres men’s hurdles at the Rio Games. With that as his major achievement so far, the 30-year-old was expectantly looking forward to going at least one step forward at the 2017 IAAF World Athletics Championships in London.
“I’ve got an European medal and an Olympic medal. Now it is time for a World Championships medal, and any colour will do,” Escobar said.
There were a couple of side awards for fast rising athletes and these were won by Sara Kolak of Croatia and Emmanouil Karalis of Greece.
Kolak, who bagged the gold medal with a throw of 66.18 metres in the women’s javelin in Rio, was chosen as the women’s winner, while Greek teenager Karalis, who has so far cleared a height of 5.55 metres in the men’s pole vault, was given the award in the men’s category. Kolak was the only athlete missing for the awards function as the 21-year-old has been unwell for the past few days.
Karalis, who is just 17, is not too concerned about the medals at the moment. “What I need to concentrate at the moment is improving my technique and clearing a better height every time I go out there,” Karaklis said.
“I am young and I have a career ahead of me. At the moment I know I am on the right track and that I need to just keep on going higher. And by the time we reach Tokyo 2020 [Olympic Games] I will be there among the medals. And that would be a dream come true for me and my country,” he added.
Organised by the Association of The Balkan Athletics Federation and GCC Athletics Federation, this was Spanovic’s third straight regional award, while it was the first one for the 30-year-old Cuban-born Escobar.
Rising Star (women): Sara Kolak (Croatia) Javelin Throw
Rising Star (men): Emmanouil Karalis (Greece) Pole Vault
Balkan Athlete of the Year (women): Ivana Spanovic (Serbia) Long Jump
Balkan Athlete of the Year (men): Yasmani Copello Escobar (Turkey) 400 metres hurdle