Veteran high jumper reveals that he only returned to athletics because his physiotherapist bet him that he couldn’t make it to a sixth Olympic Games
In 1990, Serbian high jumper Dragutin Topic broke the world junior record and became the European champion in his event while still a teenager. Turn the clock forward 22 years and he is preparing to compete in a record-equalling sixth Olympic Games.
The only male track and field athlete to have competed in six Games so far has been the Angolan distance runner Joao N’Tyamba, who was on the start line of various events from 1988 to 2008, but is absent from London 2012.
However, Topic and the Spanish walker Jesus Angel Garcia are set to match that feat in the coming days.
The women’s record for Games longevity in athletics is held by sprinter Merlene Ottey who has competed in seven Games, firstly for her native Jamaica and later for Slovenia.
“I’m aware that I’m about to do something special and it’s great,” said 41-year-old Topic from his training base in Germany. “I’m so proud of it. But I am not only jumping in London, I am also there as the coach to my wife Biljana who is in the triple jump.”
Topic has a personal best of 2.38m from 1993. He admitted that it was a bet for some beers and some free treatment for his back, as well as some Champions League football tickets, that kept him going after almost retiring at the end of 2009 in the wake of his failure to make the final at Beijing 2008.
“It was in January 2011, and I hadn’t competed in 2010 and I hadn’t trained properly in almost two years. I was visiting the well-known sports doctor Dr Muller-Wolfhart who was treating my wife for a back problem.”
“He asked me why I wasn’t competing and I said I’d also got pain in my back. He said he’d treat me for free if I made the Games. I’m glad I did otherwise I would have a big bill to pay.
“I said there has to be a limit to what I have to pay if I lose, otherwise I could have ended up paying him two million euros,” joked Topic.
“The bet also included some beers and some tickets for a Champions League game.”
The motivation clearly worked and Topic is set to become the oldest ever Games competitor in his event and believes he can make his fourth final.
“It all depends on the weather. If it is sunny I think I may have as much a chance of making the final. If it is raining, 0%.”
Despite his various honours, which include winning European titles outdoors and indoors and a world indoor championships medal, Topic has never stood on the podium at a Games. The nearest he came was when he finished fourth at Atlanta 1996.
“It’s still a source of frustration that I’ve never got an Olympic medal,” he said. “I still say that I never touched the bar with my final attempt at 2.37m in 1996 but it fell off anyway. If it had stayed on I would have got at least the silver.”
“My fondest memory of the Games is four years ago in Beijing. My wife was competing in the triple jump and I had a chance to kiss my athlete in the field during the competition.”
Going to his sixth Games has still not earned Topic the right to carry the Serbian flag during the Opening Ceremony, but he does not resent being overlooked.
“In fact we don’t arrive until July 31 in order to save money. It’s a pity as I would have liked to have been in the Opening Ceremony but instead the flag is reserved for (tennis player Novak) Djokovic and he deserves it, of course.”
One question remains: will Topic try to qualify for a seventh Games in four years’ time?
This is something he does not have a definitive response to, although his love for high jumping has been rekindled by the thought of a few free beers and couple of tickets for Bayern Munich, where Muller-Wolfhart is also the club doctor.
“God only knows,” said Topic. “I don’t have a clue. I didn’t plan to be at these Games either. Maybe I’ll need to have another bet with someone.”