BAKU, Azerbaijan (Jun 3, 2023) - Never giving up is engrained in Croatia’s new two-time World Champion Lena Stojković. Whether in Taekwondo or in life, the young Croatian has shown a grit and mental strength that belies her years.
“I think from a young age my coaches and the environment taught me to be tough,” Lena says. “I think it's really important not to give up. It sounds cliché but it’s really not. When you think you can’t that’s when you really have to, and you can.”
Speaking with Lena the day after she successfully defended her world title, you are reminded that success is never easy, even when an athlete makes it look that way.
After successfully winning the World Championships last year, Lena faced new challenges.
“I had a tough period between Guadalajara and here, even though it has only been eight months. I had a lot of things happen in those months,” she explains. “It was hard for me. I was thinking about whether to go on or not. It was really hard. But thankfully because of the people around me they supported me and didn’t let me give up so I didn’t and it paid off.”
“I think maybe because I had those tough times in-between I had to pull myself back out of it. So maybe it gave me even more motivation for this Championships.”
In Baku she demonstrated this determination, twice coming back from losing positions to win the matches – notably in the final where she was behind after the first round against Thailand’s Kamonchanok Seeken.
“Everybody asked me what did my coach tell me after the first round, and I told them he was basically telling me the same thing before the first and second round I just didn’t fully listen in the first round,” Lena says with a smile.
“But something did cross my mind. I thought I didn’t give everything in training for nothing. All those hours, days and months of hard work are nothing compared to a few minutes I have here so I’m going to give everything and whatever is for me will find me. So whatever the result I would have been happy.”
From 14-4 down in the first round of the final she fought back to win 12-11 and 6-4 to secure her second world title.
Lena is in no doubt about how important the people are around her and credits them with her success.
“My team and coaches are very important. They are the people I spend my whole day with; days and weeks of training and the majority of my life. Sometimes I’m more with them than my family but they kind of are my family.”
This Taekwondo family of hers is enjoying great success in Baku. It is not just Lena’s gold they are celebrating. Ivan Sapina won silver in the men’s -87kg and Matea Jelic and Bruna Duvancic won bronzes in the women’s -73kg and -49kg respectively. They all train at the same club, Marjan, in Split and enjoy a close relationship.
“It’s really special the bond that we have and I think we can make even bigger things than we have here,” Lena says. “I think we are not fully aware of what we have done for the country and the sport. But we were also talking about how we have the potential to do even greater things. I think we share really good values. We try to stay humble, work, trust in each other and what we do and I think that’s really important.”
“I really appreciate Matea. She won the Olympics. She was the first Croatian female to win it in Tokyo. I have her near me. It’s really nice. Everything she says I’m trying to let it sink it in.”
Matea’s Olympic success later in her career is also a lesson for Lena to not get too far ahead of herself, despite her huge success so far.
“Now there are a lot of young athletes. Really young. They are even younger than me and I’m young,” Lena jokes. “I think it shows you have to keep going step by step and everyone has their own time.”
Lena has little time for celebration with a busy month ahead. Next week she will compete at the Roma 2023 Grand Prix in a the heavier -49kg category and later in the month it is the European Games.
“I’m trying to take everything one step at a time. Especially after this I said to myself no matter the result I have to look to the next thing. It is a bit of a bigger challenge competing in a different category. It’s a bit tougher. Maybe the opponents are different and I’m short so they’re a bit taller usually. But my dream is the Olympics so I’m going to have to face it so it’s good for me to compete in that category.”
Paris 2024 remains the ultimate target but level headed as ever Lena is not getting ahead of herself.
“For now, I am trying not to look too far in future but I have the Olympics in mind and keep that as a main motivator. This year I want to give my all and be better in each tournament, especially in the bigger weight category. So for now that’s my goal and whatever in the future happens, happens.”