My trade

Branko Krivokapic

“My trade gave me the summit, from which I was to fall…”

I sit on the bus, listening to those evocative words from the famous Croatian singer and poet Arsen Dedić as I count the many miles of road from his hometown of Zagreb to the Mediterranean port of Rijeka. It is the beginning of an unpredictable May, about 4 p.m. Sleepily I watch the changes in the mountainous landscape of the Gorski Kotar region, letting my thoughts play freely to pass the time…

Well, seriously, what is this trade of mine giving me?

“A Calendar of Loneliness” – yet another poetic suggestion from Arsen Dedić comes to mind. Loneliness? I shake my head, recalling the usual turmoil at the office of TV Vijesti in Podgorica the day before.

“Defeats and Honours?” I’ve had my share. And I will have some more. However, soon I steer away from these deep philosophical waters and rise back to the surface.

Comfortable life, I suggest. Come on, we live in the Balkans. “Do not ask what your work can do for you. Ask what’s for lunch,” – I paraphrase the old JFK slogan in the spirit of Orson Welles.

Travel? Yes, but… Hotels and sports venues – that’s all I get to see. Only occasionally do I get the chance to feel the pulse of the town we visit and… my thoughts drift away. Monotonous rhythms of the road lull me to sleep.

Rijeka, 6 p.m. I take the key to my hotel room (as a matter of fact, it’s a card -- do they make proper hotel room keys anymore?) exactly 12 hours after leaving my hometown of Cetinje. A quick freshen-up and then the Clash-like dilemma: “Should I stay (in bed) or should I go (out)”? The TV offers semi-finals of the World Snooker Championship. Ronnie O’Sullivan will have to face off against Shaun Murphy without my support.

Zdravko–Ćiro Kovačić in Rijeka, May 2014
 Zdravko - Ćiro Kovačić in Rijeka, May 2014.

A stroll by the sea, some rain, then a telephone call and an arrangement to meet Zdravko–Ćiro Kovačić, former water polo player, the reason for this 900-kilometre long trip. Finally, some rest…

Unlike me, the morning wakes up fresh. It’s 8 a.m. The courtyard of the old Hotel Kontinental. Punctual, with slightly tilted posture, yet brisk in his movement, with open and curious eyes, he comes my way. According to many experts the best goalkeeper in the history of water polo. Silver medal at the Olympic Games in Helsinki in 1952 and again in Melbourne four years later. Member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida. He carries his 88 years with pride.

“I feel good.” He confirms what seems obvious. Yet he complains of pain in his legs. (“Water polo is a sport played by legs” – I recall what Igor Milanović, another legend of the pool, once told me.)

He is witty and lucid. His anecdotes keep coming yet he masterfully keeps hold of the reins of these stories. During World War Two, as a teenager, he joined the Partisan movement. Later he dedicated himself to water polo and made his mark. “I wish everyone could get from sports what I got,” he says. He speaks slowly, as if to help me remember his words.

His stories bring back distant times, places and people...

Long life -- a gift or a curse?

A short pause.

“It really makes me sad to think of all my friends who are gone,” he says as a teardrop rolls down his cheek, as if to confirm the inevitability of the passage of the rivers of time.

Our time together passes quickly. Two hours gone in a wink. At the end of our meeting, he presents me with a book of his recollections, “Faster, higher, stronger”, with a dedication: “To Branko, who works to promote sports, with my best wishes, as a memento of an old sportsman”. A strong handshake as a goodbye. Or was it until we meet again?

Kovačić in his heyday as a world-class water polo goalkeeper.
 Kovačić in his heyday as a world-class water polo goalkeeper.

Left alone, I sit at the table and surrender myself to the soothing effects of the Adriatic sun. In my trade I have this unique opportunity, sometimes a true privilege, to meet ordinary and extraordinary people and to enrich my own life with the stories of theirs. Fair enough. Comforted by this thought, I pack my backpack. Another 12-hour trip is ahead of me.

Branko Krivokapic is a sports journalist with the TV Vijesti television station and Sportski Žurnal newspaper in Montenegro. His fellowship story chronicles changes in elite sport and relations between countries of the former Yugoslavia through the popular game of water polo.

Fellow Bio


Branko Krivokapic

Branko is a sports journalist with the TV Vijesti television station and Sportski Žurnal newspaper.


Topic 2014: Generations

This year’s annual topic is Generations. Think of a powerful story that you have always wanted to report, and link it to this theme while crafting your proposal. Remember, it is better to have a strong central idea that is loosely linked to the annual theme than to have a weak idea that is strongly linked to the theme.