Finn sailor Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic ended a fantastic year as he was awarded the 2009 Croatian Athlete of the Year award, to add to his Finn European Championship title and runners up spot in the 2008-2009 ISAF Sailing World Cup.
It is the first time in nine years of the annual Croatian Olympic Committee award that a sailor has been announced as the athlete of the year.
Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic
(CRO), aged 25, said the award capped his best-ever year in the sport, "This award and finishing the year as #1 on the ISAF Ranking is the perfect ending of a perfect year for me, but also I think just a beginning of something great that I hope will culminate in Weymouth with an Olympic medal which is my dream." Croatia has yet to win its first Olympic medal in sailing.
Two thousand and nine was indeed a perfect year for Kljakovic Gašpic. He finished on the podium in almost all the events that he entered this year, including a fantastic run at the final four European ISAF Sailing World Cup
events where he finished first in Hyeres, third in Medemblik, second in Kiel, first in Weymouth, as well as winning gold at the Europeans and bronze at the Worlds.
Kljakovic Gašpic was not the only sailor nominated for the Croatian Olympic Committee annual awards. The past year was definitely the best year in history of sailing in Croatia. Dream year started in June when Sime Fantela
and Igor Marenic
(CRO) won the 470 European title, which was the first European title for Croatia after more than 30 years! In July, Kljakovic Gašpic won bronze at Finn Gold Cup, the first medal ever for Croatia at a World Championship in an Olympic sailing event. Only a couple of days later Tina Mihelic
brought home Laser Radial European gold, again a first - the first female senior medal in the history of Croatian sailing. And finally, the date of 29 August was a day of huge celebration. On that day Fantela and Marenic won the 470 World Championship and Kljakovic Gašpic was crowned as Finn European Champion.
Laser sailor Tonci Stipanovic
(CRO) also had a great year, he finished fourth at the Europeans and fifth at the Worlds, missing out on a medal by few points. The inaugural ISAF Sailing World Cup was another Croatian success: Kljakovic Gašpic was second overall in the Finn; Tina Miheli? second in the Laser Radial; Daniel Mihelic
and Stipanovic, second and third respectively in the Laser.
Reflecting on an outstanding year, Croatian Sailing Federation head coach Marko Misura
explained the team's aim is to qualify for eight places in the 10 sailing events at the London 2012 Olympic Games and expects more success to follow, "This is truly a magnificent generation. Ivan is the oldest with 25 years, Šime and Igor will turn 24 in January, Tina is only 21 years old, Ton?i and Daniel 23…I am certain that we can expect many great results in the future from these young sailors and many others that will join them. It took us some 10 years after the homeland war to settle things, it is time to harvest the fruits of our hard work".