Breaking barriers

Filip Mihaljevic discusses immigration, future shot put ambitions


Mihaljevic said it has always been his dream to compete in the Olympics.

Lauren Hornsby | Cavalier Daily

Growing up in Croatia, the first ball junior shot thrower Filip Mihaljevic came in contact with was a soccer ball.

“Everyone plays soccer, everyone starts off with soccer,” Mihaljevic said. “So that was the case with me too.”

Mihaljevic said he always hoped to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was a track and field star in the late 1980s, winning back-to-back Yugoslavian Cross Country Championships in 1987 and 1988. However, there was one obstacle which stood in his way — the lack of a track to practice on.

In high school, things began to change when Mihaljevic’s cousin took steps to introduce Filip to the sport, getting him onto his first track and taking on the role of his coach.

“He let me try as a kind of testing thing, like some sprints and jumps and throws, and he thought I could be a good thrower,” Mihaljevic said.

“Good thrower,” is one of the biggest understatements of the year. Mihaljevic has been named the Croatian Champion in shot put and discus seven times and also placed second at European Junior Championships in shot put in 2013. This significant success caught the eye of the Virginia track and field coaching staff, who began recruiting Mihaljevic. Coming to America to compete for a Division I program was a dream come true for Mihaljevic, as he wanted to find somewhere where he could excel in both academics and athletics.

“Back home … there is a big separation between sports and academics, but I wanted to do both ‘cause both of my parents have masters degrees so I wanted to keep that tradition,” he said. “I think U.Va. was definitely the best place for that.”

Despite his excitement to become a student athlete, Mihaljevic faced many challenges when he arrived in Charlottesville.

“The first two months were kind of tough [because of] cultural shock, language barriers and everything,” Mihaljeic admitted. “But everyday, I feel like more comfortable speaking English, hanging out with people, making new friends, going to class [and] talking to professors.”

Despite the challenges he faced in his early days on Grounds, Mihaljevic has adjusted nicely, particularly under the guidance of his coaching staff at Virginia. He said that his coaches — including fellow Croatian assistant coach Martin Maric and new throws coach Kemal Mesic, from Bosnia and Herzegovina — have not only helped him adjust to the new rules and environment in America, but have also helped him “develop … as a person and as an athlete.”

Mihaljevic has excelled in his collegiate career, winning a multitude of titles, from a Bronze at the World Indoor Championships last month to winning multiple ACC throwing titles and qualifying for the NCAAs over the past two years. In January, he hit a huge milestone — earning the Olympic standard in the shot put, throwing 20.69 meters. With high hopes and even higher chances of getting to represent Croatia in the Rio 2016 Olympics this summer, he said this opportunity is a huge one.

“It has always been my dream to compete in the Olympics,” he said.

However, there are a few other matters of business he has to attend to before Rio rolls around.

“I have [to] focus on ACCs and NCAAs — those are my primary goals,” he said. “I am still a collegiate athlete… My ultimate goal is to be a good world class athlete, but right now I still need to focus on my collegiate career. I want to win NCAAs this year.”

At the end of the day, Mihaljevic said he is excited for the opportunities he has been given and has faith in himself and the work he has put in.

“I am only 21 years old, and I am a collegiate athlete and to go to the Olympics, I think it will be huge, huge experience for me… I have been working hard, so I would never question myself if [I] were to make the team.”

Keep an eye out for Mihaljevic at the Virginia Challenge this weekend in Charlottesville, and on the national — and maybe Olympic — stage this summer.

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