Marko Racic, Slovenia’s oldest living Olympian and one of the oldest living Olympians in the world, celebrated his 100th birthday last Saturday (25). Due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions in place in Slovenia, the celebration was modest, a back yard gathering limited to close family at his house in the country’s southeastern Bela Krajina region where he was born in 1920.
But he planned to talk to as many well-wishers as he could.
"My granddaughter Maruša will help me answer the phone, which can become very hot after so many calls, literally," he said during an hour-long conversation two days before his birthday when journalists visited to take some photos to illustrate their stories about his jubilee birthday.
Racic says that despite his years he still very much lives a normal life - with the help of his daughter Mojca.
"They say you have to be at home these days,” he says. “I still walk for 30-45 minutes every day, but because of the current situation I cannot go and pick up lunch. Also, I used to go for a coffee at a nearby senior citizens' home, but now that is not possible. Strange times.
“But I can watch television, solve a crossword puzzle and Sudoku, read books. I am not bored at all. I still prepare breakfast myself, but I must praise my daughter who looks after me."
1948 400m semifinalist
Racic represented the former Yugoslavia at the 1948 Summer Olympic Games in London, where he reached the semifinals in the 400m. He has also participated in two editions of the European Championships, in Oslo in 1946 and in Brussels four years later.
Upon retirement, Racic became an athletics coach, completing his specialization studies in Oslo in 1953. From 1960 and 1968 he was the selector for the Yugoslav women's athletics team, which included European champion and 800m world record-holder Vera Nikolic.
Racic has had a great impact on the development of athletics in Slovenia, first as an athlete, then as a coach and national selector, technical director, competition referee, and organiser of domestic and international events. In 1984 for instance, he was responsible for the preparation of bulletins at the Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo.
His career has also included endeavors as an editor of numerous athletic publications, notably as a co-author of the publication of the 85th anniversary of Slovenian athletics in 2005. He also spent decades writing and drawing upon data from his rich statistical collection, invaluable in the time before the internet. The bulletin, ‘Our Olympians’, and other important collections that chronicle the history of Slovenian sport would be very incomplete without his contribution - and probably filled with many inaccuracies as well.
In 1997 he was awarded a Golden Pin by European Athletics, the first for a Slovenian, and in 2003 he became an honorary member of the Slovenian Athletics Federation (AZS). In 2008 he was recognised by the International Olympic Committee for his promotion of Olympism.
On his 100th birthday, the Slovenian Athletics Federation once again thanked him much for the immeasurable mark he has left in Slovenian athletics and wished him all the best. By coincidence, Slovenian athletics is also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and hopes that Racic will be among the special guests at the gala celebration that is being prepared for October.
Peter Kastelic (AZS) for World Athletics