For the first of the men in our 2021 Olympians series, I want to introduce you to Tin Srbic from Croatia, a 23-year-old you probably know as the high bar king after he calmly and casually took down both Epke Zonderland and Hidetaka Miyachi for the world title in 2017.
Prior to his history-making world championships win in 2017, Srbic had spent a decade competing internationally, making his debut at the age of 12, and in his final year at the junior level in 2014, he finished fourth on high bar at European Championships, where he had one of the easier routines, but his performance was brilliant.
Srbic entered senior competition at the age of 18, competing at European Championships and a series of world cups, making his first high bar final at Cottbus. However, he didn’t know about a schedule change at that competition, and ended up missing the final completely, showing up to find that it was in progress and that a reserve from Belgium had already taken his place.
Though his debut senior year got off to a bit of a rough start, and though he didn’t have an opportunity to attempt to qualify for the Rio Olympic Games, 2016 changed things for Srbic. He medaled in every world cup he entered, becoming known for his difficult but clean sets, and he continued to climb the ranks in 2017, snagging his first high bar gold in Koper, and then following it up with another gold a week later at home in Osijek.
Despite this recent success, the result in 2017 was still a pretty big surprise. Though he’d clearly always been a standout on the event, Montreal marked Srbic’s first world championships and he was a major underdog behind both Zonderland and Miyachi, as well as behind many other talented guys in Montreal who both made and missed that final.
Qualifying third on the event, Srbic proved in qualifications that he was solidly in the mix for the podium, but certainly not a frontrunner. But in a final full of nerves, Srbic played it cool, putting together a super difficult set with back-to-back-to-back releases that he made it through seamlessly. He earned the title by two tenths over Zonderland, who famously managed to hang onto the rail with a one-arm swing after a near-miss, but even with his heroic save, he wasn’t able to get the score he needed for the win, and with that, Srbic became the first Croatian world champion in the sport.
Following his gold medal win in Montreal, the national newspaper Sportske Novosti named him the Croatian Athlete of the Year, and he became a bit of a celebrity in his country, making multiple public appearances, including on a few television shows.
In the gymnastics world, meanwhile, he went from being the new kid on the block to being the one to watch on high bar. He defended his Osijek title on the event in 2018, and despite a shoulder injury while training that summer, he put on an excellent performance at the worlds final in Doha, though it ended up being a super tough (and awesome) competition, and he ended up in fourth place, a third of a tenth back from the podium.
A year later, Srbic won the silver on high bar at European Championships with a 14.900, the highest score of his career, which he repeated at the Paris Challenge Cup a few months later, getting the gold to put himself in an excellent position going into worlds in Stuttgart.
Since Srbic only competes high bar, his only two means for qualifying to the 2020 Olympic Games would be to finish in the top three among non-team hopefuls at world championships, or to win the overall series ranking at the apparatus world cups. Neither would be easy, but with his super consistent track record on the event at major international competitions, it was no surprise to see him once again qualify into the world final in Stuttgart, officially securing his Olympic berth when he won the silver medal.
Srbic will go into the Olympic Games next year no longer the underdog, but rather a frontrunner for a high bar medal. If he medals, he’ll become the second Croatian man to win a medal for gymnastics at the Olympic Games, after current teammate Filip Ude won the silver on pommels in 2008, and if he takes gold, he’ll once again make history, this time as the first Croatian gymnast to take an Olympic title. No pressure.
Article by Lauren Hopkins