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Optimist Atanasijevic: An extraordinary talent guaranteed to win medals

Atanasijevic hopes to guide Serbia to a medal at the World Championships this summer
Lausanne, Switzerland, June 19, 2014 - The two FIVB World Championships are the highlights of the year. In the run up to the title showdowns for the men in Poland (August 30 to September 21) and for the women in Italy (September 23 to October 12), we will introduce a some of international volleyball most prominent stars. In part seven of the series, we tell the story of Aleksandar Atanasijevic, the young leader of Serbia’s successful men’s team.

Lausanne, Switzerland, June 19, 2014 - As a child, Aleksandar Atanasijevic played handball and basketball before finally opting for volleyball - a lucky turn of events, as the young man nicknamed “Bata” has come to appreciate. "I have made my best friends playing volleyball. I think I definitely made the right decision."

It soon became apparent what an exceptionally talented volleyball player he is. In 2009, he led the Serbian team to victory in the Youth Volleyball World Championship and was awarded the prestigious title of ‘Best Youth Player in the World’.

He then went on to make his debut in the national team in 2010. "I was delighted, as this was something I had dreamed about since the first day I played the sport. I was nervous, but it went very quickly thanks to the older players." In 2011, Atanasijević won gold at the European Championship with the Serbian men’s team. He then added the bronze medal at the continental showdown in 2013, ending the competition as top scorer.

Atanasijevic is still just 22 years old, but already he is regarded as one of the best opposite hitters in the world. So what is the secret to his success? As well as his ball control and powerful leap, a lot can be attributed to his optimistic character. The young man is rarely to be found without a smile on his face, both on and off the court, and is always up for a joke. "Life is great. We have to enjoy life," he says. And you can see this in the way he plays: as well as an unbending desire to win, you get the sense he always enjoys playing.

The outings with the Serbian national team are always particularly special for Atanasijevic. "I am so proud to play for my country. Serbia is my home and will always be number one for me."

Traveling all over the world is also part and parcel of being an international volleyball star. This week, Atanasijevic travelled 12,000 kilometres from Chicago, USA, to Surgut, Russia, for the away matches in the FIVB World League. With 100 points from six games at the halfway point of the preliminary round, the Serb is one of the highest point scorers in the world - as usual.

Atanasijevic has followed in the footsteps of the mighty Ivan Miljkovic in the Serbian national team. He wears the number 14 vest for club and country, in recognition of the former superstar who he has always looked up to. "Ivan Miljkovic is probably the best volleyball player of all time. And he is definitely my role model."

That may be true from a sporting point of view, but the greatest influences on Atanasijevic’s private life are his parents. "My parents taught me why and how you should respect and appreciate certain things. Everything they did in my childhood was the right way. I've never been pressed into doing anything I do. They taught me that I make the decisions and that school is just as important as sport. And they always say that education is important." He almost studied medicine – mother and father are both doctors – but opted instead to start studying law, as he could do this alongside his sporting interests.

Aleksandar Atanasijevic has for a long time been in the privileged position of being able to earn his living as a professional volleyball player, and is in great demand at the top clubs in the world. After playing for his home club Partizan Belgrade, he moved to his first foreign club, Skra Belchatow. It goes without saying that he also enjoyed extraordinary success there between 2011 and 2013, including victory in the Polish Cup and Supercup. Belchatow made it through to the final of the European Champions League and finished third in the FIVB Club World Championship.

Atanasijevic switched to Sir Safety Perugia in 2013, where he has played since. As the outstanding hitter, he led the team to second place in the Italian championship and was awarded the prestigious Gazzetta trophy ahead of international stars like Ivan Zaytsev and Robertlandy Simon. "The Italian league is a great league. People say that the Russian league is the strongest in the world, but I do not agree. Maybe the best volleyball players in the world are playing in Russia now, but these are just single players, outstanding individuals. When it comes to the standard of the whole team, the Italian league wins by far. The budgets of the clubs are growing, and more and more fans come to watch. I think the Italian league is back to the time of its greatest splendour."

Aleksandar Atanasijevic has another mission to complete before he returns to Perugia. He wants to guide Serbia to a medal at the FIVB Men’s World Championship, where he will celebrate his 23rd birthday on September 4. "That is one of my big dreams," says Bata. "The biggest is to win the Olympics with Serbia." And there is a good chance he may just achieve these goals. After all, this extraordinary star of the volleyball world lives by the motto "never give up".


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