By Nick Hope
Lana Pudar is aware that Olympic history potentially beckons come Paris 2024 and the teenager is aiming to provide further evidence of her podium potential at Otopeni 2023.
Last year, the then 16-year-old became the first Bosnia and Herzegovina swimmer to win a European long course title with victory in the 200m butterfly at Roma 2022.
She is now aiming to claim her nation’s first-ever Olympic medal, in any sport, at next year’s Games.
“I’m the first to win European medals and to be in World finals, which means a lot for me, but also my country,” Pudar tells European Aquatics.
“My goal is to win an Olympic medal, actually an Olympic gold medal next year because we have been waiting for that medal for almost 25 years and it would be so big and historic!”
‘SUCCESSES HELP JUSTIFY THE SACRIFICES’
Pudar began swimming at the age of five and admits that she was already considering a professional career in the pool by the time she hit double digits.
“I loved swimming from day one and when my coaches saw I had talent I began training and racing at my club early on,” the teenager recalls.
“When I was 10, I started thinking about swimming as a profession because I began breaking age-group records which was a really big thing for me and I started to see myself here (at the summit of the sport).”
In 2021, aged 15, she just had time to squeeze in an appearance – and attain one gold as well as two silver medals – at the European Junior Championships, before heading to Tokyo for the delayed Olympic Games.
She placed 19th in the 100m but won many admirers and interest in the butterfly specialist only grew as she claimed a maiden senior international honour – World Short Course bronze – at the end of the year in Abu Dhabi.
Two further European junior titles followed in 2022, as did senior European 200m gold and bronze medals and a brace of titles at the Mediterranean Games.
Pudar insists the successes help justify the “difficult” decisions she often has to make for the sake of her career.
“It has been hard and still is sometimes when I have moments where I want to stop all of this and just be a normal teenager,” she admits to European Aquatics.
“Sometimes I just want to go out, or even be at home with friends and family because I’m away on training camps so often and I miss them.
“Then I remember why I’m doing all of this, how good I am and I don’t want to stop.”
SELFIES WITH SJÖSTRÖM
Growing up in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Pudar was short of domestic role models, but there was one international athlete she particularly idolised.
“Sarah Sjöström for sure,” she says with a beaming smile.
“She broke all the butterfly records and from the start she was my favourite, my role model and in fact, she still is!
“The first time I raced with her was at the Olympics and I was really scared because it was hard to be between all those world stars at my first senior competition as well.
“I like how she talks to other swimmers, how she spoke to me when I wanted to take a picture with her and how she’s still going strong even after all the years of her career.”
Pudar aims to now be that role model for young swimmers in her homeland.
“I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved and everyone in my country loves me, so that’s a really big thing,” she tells European Aquatics.
“I really like it when little kids approach me and say I’m their role model and they want to be like me because I feel that support and it motivates me.”
HEADING TO OTOPENI WITH OPTIMISM
So far in 2023 the swimmer has completed a butterfly hat-trick at the Euro Juniors in Belgrade, secured two World Junior crowns and now aims to add to that haul in Romania.
“I like Otopeni and liked everything last year at the (2022) European Junior Championships which was a really good competition where I swam some good results,” she says.
“This year I want to make them even better.
“I’ll have more support as we have a big team, so I think it will be great and I’m targeting 100m and 200m gold medals.”
You will be able to follow all of the latest news and videos from Otopeni 2023 via the European Aquatics website and social media channels, with LIVE STREAMS available via All Aquatics.