08 Apr 2020

Always supporting the cause, the one dear to his heart; if any sportsman in any discipline, flew the flag for Croatia, it was Zoran Primorac.

Opposing Zoki from Zadar, the adversary was facing the whole nation!

by Kabir Nagpal

Born on Sunday 10th May 1969, the first time he played table tennis, it was certain to him, it was the sport to follow.

Humble beginnings

Representing his hometown club STK Bagat, he won seven medals at the European Youth Championships. However, this did in no way make him feel invincible and his training continued as vigorously as before. Understandably, this set the course for him when he eventually did make it as a professional.

“I never miss fitness exercises after each practice session, I also jog two or three times a week, keep improving my speed and endurance, sprint, practices fencing steps.” Zoran Primorac

A powerful forehand, a key factor in the success of Zoran Primorac (Photo: Guido Schiefer)

 

World Championships debut

In early 1987, the World Championships were held in New Delhi; now 185 cm tall and 80 kg strong, Primorac was ready to showcase his talents on the grand stage. In a spectacular debut, he secured the men’s doubles silver medal with Ilija Lupulesku, both of the then Yugoslavia.

The achievement was marked by the defeat of China’s He Zhiwen and Jiang Jialiang in the quarter-finals, followed by victory over Korea Republic’s Ahn Jaehyun and Yoo Namkyu. Eventually, they were beaten in the final versus China’s Chen Longcan and Wei Qingguang; a contest in which they rather missed their chance

“New Delhi marked my debut at a World championships. Ilija Lupulesku and myself almost reached the stars there. After the first easy wins in doubles, in the quarter-finals we eliminated the world champion Jiang Jialiang and his partner He Zhiwen.

Hard work followed against the tough South Koreans Ahn Jaehyun and Yoo Namkyu. It was 22-20 in the decisive game. In the final we faced a new Chinese duo, Chen Longcan and Wei Qingguang. The entire match was touch-and-go: the first game was poor and disjointed; the second and third excellent.

I still remember the splendid actions and counter strokes from all positions. The Chinese surprised us. We expected that the brunt of their attack would come from the better known Chen Longcan.

Actually, it was the small and nimble Wei that caused us more problems. The drama climaxed in the third game. The Chinese were in the lead all the time but we tied at 13-13 and we kept in hand point by point. In the finish a treat for the connoisseurs but also a case for nerves – we forged ahead 20-18.

Two match points! Then we sort of unwound, I don’t know what actually happened. The Chinese tied and won the trophy. Sad, our hopes deflated, we were just runners up.” Zoran Primorac

Silver again

One year later, the partnership of Primorac and Lupulesku was to win silver again; at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Silver in Barcelona for Ilija Lupulesku (left) and (right) Zoran Primorac (Photo: courtesy of Table Tennis Legends)

 

Again, in three games in the final, they lost to Chen Longcan and Wei Qingguang. Later Wei Qingguang moved to Japan and became known as Seiko Iseki.

“In the quarter-finals we eliminated the European champions, Waldner and Appelgren, 2-1. In the semis, we also sent off the local aces Kim Kitaek and Kim Wan, 2-0 and ended up in the final. The current world champions and our good acquaintances from New Delhi, Chen Longcan and Wei Qingguang of China, were waiting for us. We did very well in the first game and won it 22-20; however, in the second and third game the tide turned in their favour.” Zoran Primorac

Gold in Gothenburg

The second step of the podium at the 1990 European Championship in Gothenburg, it was gold.

“In the final we faced Steffen Fetzner and Jörg Rosskopf, the Dortmund world champions. We forced them to play close to the table and not from a distance. We won 22-20 after saving one game point in the first and then after having two match points in the second.” Zoran Primorac.

Olympic Games

In the early part of his career from 1988 to 1991 he played under the flag of Yugoslavia; then civil war, from 1991 to 1994 he found himself stateless. Conflicted subsiding, at the 1994 European Championships in Birmingham, for the first time he represented his beloved Croatia. Playing alongside Dragutin Surbek, they had to start in the lowest division, national associations like the Isle of Man proud to play such illustrious opponents.

It was a match to remember for the Isle of Man, as (nearest the camera) John Shooter and Ian Gorham faced Dragutin Surbek and Zoran Primorac in the men’s team event at the 1994 European Championships in Birmingham (Photo: John Wood)

 

Perfecting the art of serving from the centre of the table with his backhand; he won the Men’s World Cup in 1993 in Guangzhou and in 1997 in Nimes; one of very few players to achieve the feat. Additionally, he won the men’s singles title at the Qatar Open on three consecutive occasions (1998, 1999, 2001).

In March 1998 he achieved the no.2 spot on the world rankings, the highest of his career. He appeared in seven consecutive Olympic Games, alongside Jörgen Persson and Jean-Michel Saive, he holds the record for having the most number of such appearances. Significantly of that group he is the only medal winner and the only Croatian to win an Olympic Games medal in the table tennis events.

Zoran Primorac at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games (Photo: Monthly World Table Tennis)

 

Beyond sport

Outside the playing arena, on Sunday 28th June 2018, at the Libertas International University in Zagreb, he received the accolade of Master of International Relations and Diplomacy.

“Top sport as a promoter on the international market is an important factor for every country, because of its growing popularity at all levels. Sport gets the highest attention in the media and sport events are regularly one of the most watched. Therefore, we should look at sport from the principles of modern management and marketing, to understand its complexity. The aim of my graduate thesis was to show the marketing side of sport, its value and how it can support the prosperity of a country like Croatia.” Zoran Primorac

A fan of spear fishing and tennis, and someone who loves McDonalds, Primorac has a great deal to offer rising generations; much more than just an athlete.

The proudest moment of his career, the Croatian flag bearer at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games; there could be no better tribute.

Winner of the Perrier 1997 Men’s World Cup in Nimes (left) and the trademark backhand service (Photos: Manfred Schillings)
In Depth Zoran Primorac