How a biathlon champion outsmarted the media in both countries that own him
For Jakov Fak, the actual 20 km biathlon world champion, the trail to success starts on the snowy plateaus around his hometown of Mrkopalj, Croatia. His ambitions and success soon overgrow the Croatian capacities, so he trains alongside the Slovenian team which also prides itself with a top-notch ultra modern Nordic training center. But after a while, Slovenians decided they didn’t want to share their resources with someone with a foreign flag on his sleeve, while Fak could not see his future without them, particularly not without the coach Uroš Velepec. He had to take Slovenian citizenship – or go.
For those who need to be reminded: Slovenia and Croatia are an example of peaceful, but quite frustrated neighbours, who have no major historical reason for disputes, so they resort to any available reason to annoy each others – the less significant – the better. Therefore trading Fak’s Citizenship for a prosperous future in biathlon has been a nice example of two national prides waging a war on the shoulders of a boy who only wanted to run faster and shoot better. After a period of dramatic conditionings between the national teams, which nearly ruined Fak’s career, the Croats finally let him go: A flag bearer for Croatian Winter Olympic team in 2010 has won the first Slovenian Gold in Biathlon World Championship two years later.
This cute, humble guy who speaks perfectly Slovene instantly became a media darling: The prime commercial network POP TV has run a story following his grand victory, where Fak, among others, explains in his shy manner how he collects plastic bottles in his free time and sells them in Croatia to earn some money. He claimed that so far, his bottle sales amounted to 150 EUR – enough to buy a few cinema tickets.
This was quickly picked up by Croatian media, who have not only pointed out how Slovenes keep the national traitor Fak in poverty, but went investigating his smuggling activity to reveal that such transporting of emptied packaging across the border actually means a criminal offense. In addition, the story reads, its sale would cause damage to the Environmental protection Fund.
It took a while, until Fak’s bottles story came under some common sense reevaluation and suddenly it became quite clear that he has pulled a brilliant hoax. Fak explained that he actually made his own little test of the media to see whether the information is in any way filtered to tell the essentials from crap: “My conclusion is that you attract the same media attention by becoming a world champion or by saying something stupid like that.” Such an inventive approach to show how dumbing-down media can be is simply impressive, and certainly not something one would expect from a 24-year old athlete. Respect for that too, Jakov!
The provocative humor, probably an inevitable mean to overcome all the political pressure that have been building up around Fak, has become his trademark. With an identity of dedicated biathlon athlete, he apparently does not want to waste any more energy on his split nationality and citizenship. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the media.
At the 1984 Sarajevo Games, Slovene Jure Franko bagged the first medal for Yugoslavia in the Winter Olympics. Even if the snow sports at that time have been an exclusive domain of Slovenes, 22 million people were entitled to celebrate his success. Today, in a time of an independent country, this number automatically goes down by ten times. Then when the Croatian Kostelić family took over the alpine skiing, Slovenes took it with some jealousy, but again only a fair four millions were allowed to be proud of their victories. Nowadays Jakov Fak, a Croatian born athlete, whose talent has been developed under the Slovene biathlon expertise is doing his best to once again unite a greater population in cheering and embracing the achievements in winter sports in this part of the world. But apart from winning medals, he also seems to be well aware that people need to be reminded, what really matters in his story.