Ivana Maksimovic at Nanjing 2014: Feeling older, getting younger

2nd Youth Olympic Games · Nanjing, CHN

The Serbian Olympic Silver met the Youth Olympics' young athletes, and tried to teach them how to win as they remembered her how to enjoy it

Last March, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) appointed Serbia's 24-year-old rifle shooter Ivana Maksimovic as one of 37 “Athlete Role Models” (ARMs) for the Youth Olympic Games (YOG), which started on August 16 and will close next Thursday in Nanjing, China.


ARMs “will play a key role in supporting, mentoring and offering advice to the 3,800 young athletes who will be participating in the Games,” the IOC explains.


We meet Maksimovic at the Fansghen Shooting Hall in Nanjing, after the third day of competition. “My mission,” Maksimovic says, “is to be free when the athletes are coming to me and want to talk about my experience, my life story, my career.”


As Maksimovic is hanging around at the Youth Olympic Village (YOV), her home in Nanjing , athletes walk up to her handling an iPad, and asking her to play games. “One is to choose what exercise to do,” she says. “I chose push-ups, so they asked: '10, 15, or 20?' I was like, '15,' and they where like, 'Ok, do 15 push-ups!'” As she did 15 push-ups, she figured out how it worked–what you recommend, you also do it. A model, after all, is supposed to give the example.


London 2012 Silver medallist Maksimovic met the competitors of Nanjing 2014 to get them ready for Rio 2016. She would train them through her professional experience and personal stories–that was the plan. But teachers and pupils often swap roles, and that's what happened; athletes–thanks to their cheerful, carefree and lighthearted attitude–made Maksimovic think of how she deals with her career, and they eventually ended up teaching her how to be more like them. “I've learned how to take everything with more calm and not [to be] so stressed”, she says.


“When I look at them [young athletes],” Maksimovic says, “I see that actually I'm old, that I'm not young anymore, and that everything is now professionalism. That's the biggest difference between the Youth Olympics and the senior Olympics: the behavior of athletes.”


The contrast appeared clear to Maksimovic as she compared the Youth Olympic Village to the Olympic Village. “You can hear music here [at the YOV],” she says. “You can see them dancing. It's very interesting, because they're all relaxed and they just wanna make as many friends as they can. At the senior Olympics, you cannot see much of that.” Latino dances, that warm up the streets of the YOV at night, wouldn't be so welcome there, as “at ten, everybody is sleeping. Here they're just having fun and enjoying their time.”


Easygoing young athletes made Maksimovic reconsider her professional approach to competitions. That is understandable: as you see someone doing the same thing that you are doing, but with less pressure and more joy, you can't just walk away from it and not think about it. She understood that “to be happy, have fun and give your best” is possible, not only at the YOG but even at the senior Olympics. “If you're young in your spirit,” she said, “then you can do everything.”


Staying young as the years go by, which sounds like an appealing option, is not an easy job. Still, Maksimovic wants to do it. “I'm trying to!” she says with a laugh. “I will try to stay young in my spirit as long as I can.”

For a start, the YOG made Maksimovic feel a few years younger. “Yes!” she says amused. “Five, probably? This was a good lesson, to be here surrounded by young athletes. It will help me a lot.”


Feeling older can't be so bad, if you manage to get younger.

Alessandro Ceschi