The Next Croatian Sensation

stipe 4

So my wife and I were stuck in a doctor’s office for nearly four hours this morning, which I imagine is a lot like spending time in purgatory but with less comfortable chairs.

The doctor was running two hours behind schedule, and it was becoming increasingly clear to me why Buddy the Elf started eating those cotton balls when I remembered that the European Indoor Championships started today. I’d had a very nice conversation with University of Florida throws coach Steve Lemke earlier in the week, and I was interested  to see how things were going for his shot putter, Stipe Zunic, who was in Prague representing Croatia.

Turns out things were going just fine.

So fine, in  fact, that when one of the nurses mentioned that she had grown up in Croatia, I was able to inform her that her country had a new indoor national shot put record of 20.67m.

She had no idea what a “shot put” was and seemed confused as to why I would be excited about a Croatian throwing one far, but my wife assured her that I was harmless, and something tells me that if I run into her again a couple of years from now, say after the 2016 Olympics, she’ll know all about the shot put and Stipe Zunic.

Recruited  out of Zadar, Croatia, Stipe was always, in the words of Coach Lemke, “a javelin thrower in a shot putter’s body.”

After earning All-American status in the jav as a freshman and sophomore, a shoulder injury forced Stipe to redshirt the 2013 season, and to consider becoming a shot putter in a shot putter’s body.

According to Coach Lemke, Stipe was so strong (he could bench 500 pounds) and athletic (he was a Junior World Champion in kick-boxing) that reaching 18 meters in the shot seemed like a realistic goal.

In  February of 2014, he threw 18.98m at the Texas A&M Invitational.

Outdoors, at the Texas Relays, he reached 19.30m.

Shortly thereafter, at the Florida State Twilight meet, he surpassed 19.80m four times and established a new PR of 19.52m

Then things started to get a little crazy.

20.52m at the conference meet.

20.60m at the NCAA East Preliminary Round.

A slightly disappointing 19.67m at the NCAA Championships.

And then a personal best of 20.68m at the European Championships last August.

I was at that competition, and I remember being confused because I had also been at the 2011 and 2012 NCAA championships when Stipe was still a javelin thrower.

Throughout the final in Zurich, I kept thinking “Wait, is that the same Stipe Zunic?”

The answer is “Yes and no.”

It is the same Stipe who placed in Des Moines in 2011 and 2012, but he  now weighs 286 pounds, benches 570, behind-the-neck jerks 455 and puts the shot 18 meters from the stand.

Coach Lemke says that Stipe has been reluctant to completely abandon the jav, and actually threw it at last year’s SEC outdoor championships but felt too “beat up” afterwards to throw again at the regional.

This year, they talked about having Stipe throw only the shot at the SEC meet then compete in both at the regional and NCAA finals, but that is not likely to happen now that the schedule for Eugene has been announced and the men’s shot and jav are to be held on the same day.

But, that’s still a ways down the road.

The European Indoor shot final is tomorrow, and if he can come away with a medal, Stipe will have taken another major step towards sharing the “Croatian Sensation” mantel with discus great Sandra Perkovic.

Here are Stipe’s throws from the qualification round:











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