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They said about Ceca Kitic: “Svetlana Kitic, a seventeen year old pupil of Trading school in Belgrade, a player of Radnicki, was proclaimed to be the best player of the First World Junior Championship Tournament. Her father Dusan commented on the occasion: That title is deserved only by those who can carry it.” Tempo “Svetlana Kitic is my type of a female athlete in every sense. She deserves to be admired.” Singer Miso Kovac “The best Yugoslavian player is a natural talent. She is a volcano of athletic charm, ability, skill in scoring goals and organizing the play. For us Tunisians, she is the best propagator of female sport.” L`Aksion “Svetlana Kitic should always be in the first team, she should always play and be the major player, the pillar of the National team. She should be the conductor of the orchestra, and not the fourth violin. She should not enter the game in the second half and just shoot penals. She is made to be a leader, even though she is in a crisis at the moment and spends more time on the bench than in the game. Her potential is unsurpassed: she has proven that many times. Hence, let Svetlana play all the time.” SN, Andro Kuh “Svetlana Kitic is one of the most talented young Yugoslavian athletes – she is the future of the female handball. On the World Championships in Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, she was one of the best players, and in the finals, she was the best player. That is why the experts pay due attention to her at the matches with our National team. The best guard players are assigned to her, everybody is keeping a watchful eye on her and this shows her true athletic value.” Politika

“This ravishing and fiery girl is a phenomenon born only once in a hundred years! We were big rivals and friends. She was destined to become the beauty queen of many tournaments, she was a player of universal abilities, she had a rich diapason of handball skills and she alone could decide the outcome of the match. She scored magnificent goals, technically superb. She was a playmaker with subtle moves that surprised even her most outstanding rivals. She was the coach’s right hand. Even though, I belong to an older generation, I must admit that I “stole” many feints from the beautiful and charming Yugoslavian player. Only the ones who played against her can grasp her athletic magnitude. We always had trouble stopping her. My late husband and coach Igor Turcin respected and valued her very much. For him, she was the essence of athletic perfection. Who will be Svetlana’s true successor? Nobody! She is irreplaceable and incomparable.” Zinaida Turcina the best player of Spartak, the captain of Zbornaja “Taking into consideration all the biggest aces, Svetlana Kitic made the strongest impression on me, not just as a player, but as a person as well. She was not only a great player, but she was the embodiment of fair play and sports worthy conduct. She trusted the referees and comported herself accordingly. The most important thing to her was the play itself, the fact that she scored goals and competed with her rivals who very often did not choose the means to stop her. She used to continue playing without arguing and making remarks. She was dignified, in the manner of the true aces. Except of being an attractive woman, she often left people breathless, she was modest, sometimes even feisty, but essentially fair, and a true leader of the team. International referee Milan Valcic “What is the secret of the phenomenon called Svetlana Kitic? There is no secret. She is the embodiment of pure nature, of handball and athletic originality with a seductive body. She is above all a woman. And women have many secrets...” The Sports Journal

Svetlana Vujcic CECA – the story of Svetlana Kitic, the world’s best female handball player of all times Publisher Dobra knjiga doo 137 Maksima Gorkog Street, Beograd For the publisher Goran Milenkovic Translated by Mihaela and Aleksandar Lazovic Proofreading Hristina Protic

Editor Vladeta Nedeljković Language editing Milan Mladenovic Design and layout Olja Stanic Print Elvod-print, Lazarevac Circulation 500 copies

Sales 011/240 22 22, 011/24 55 026, 069/22 33 763 Copyright © Dobra knjiga All rights reserved and protected by the law. CIP - Каталогизација у публикацији Народна библиотека Србије, Београд 796.322:929 Китић С. VUJČIĆ, Svetlana, 1960Ceca : the story of Svetlana Kitic, the world’s best female handball player of all times / Svetlana Vujcic ; translated by Mihaela and Aleksandar Lazovic. Beograd : Dobra knjiga, 2012 (Lazarevac : Elvod print).- 142 str. ; 20 cm Tiraž 500. - Str. [143-144]: The story of two Svetlanas / Vladeta Nedeljkovic. ISBN 978-86-86013-18-7 a) Китић, Светлана (1960-) COBISS.SR-ID 195040780

Svetlana Vujcic

Ceca the story of Svetlana Kitic, the world’s best female handball player of all times

Translated by Mihaela and Aleksandar Lazovic

We are thankful to:

International Handball Federation Handball Council of Serbia Ministry of Youth and Sports of the Republic of Serbia for their support

The doors were cracking under all the hitting, but she couldn’t hear anything. Perhaps I’ll get lucky and disappear forever, Svetlana thought. Everything went wrong, too fast. If I hit... – Cecaaa, Cecaaa! – Ema shouted in panic and finally, pressed the handle. There was no one in the empty corridor, only a pile of stuff scattered around looking scary in the semi-dark. There were no longer perky jerseys full of life, soft and silky shorts loosely pressed against her perfectly shaped body. With her every move, she would passionately arch her body in them like an inseparable part of the game, a unique energy that represents life itself. Beauty, joy, untamed youth – that was her. And now... – I’m fine, I’m here, in the room, Ceca replied dully to her friend. – Ema, I’m sinking... Now I know what it means to lose... She was on the verge of despair and for the hundredth time she asked herself whether she did the right thing when she said “yes” to handball for the second time, when she left her second husband and lost custody of her five-year-old son, she literally didn’t have a dime to her name. She knew the answer, and that realization pained her sole deeper and deeper, it dully penetrated her cold bones and contracted muscles, every tortured cell of her divine body. It hurt like... Death must feel like this, she whispered. 7

Ceca – the story of Svetlana Kitic

– It is not a mistake, this is the only way, it has to be and it is all I know. I don’t know why, I just know that I must endure. I can do it, I can... Right? I don’t know how, and what to do, yet... Where to start or stop, but I will make it – she wiped her tears with her trembling hand and stared at Ema with her big, dark, empty eyes. – Everything will pass, that’s life, it has to pass, as well as this miserable 1987. Everything... It was easier. Piled up rage and deep feeling of despair were slowly disappearing with every uttered word; they were melting in her soul which was always filled with love; unexplained, gratuitous love. It was love that she thought it was worth living for. For everything and nothing, just for existing and looking forward at your own accomplishments. To inhale air, uniformly, every few seconds, just as quickly as she could see her life flashing before her eyes. When she thought that there was no way out, just a moment after the dark thought that it was best to disappear, she hungrily grasped for air, like a drowning woman on whose dark blue lips somebody unexpectedly placed his own, warm; like a woman who has been given another chance, a salvation. The rescuer and the judge were the same person - she. It is stupid to blame others, it is pointless and futile to accuse anyone, even me, she thought, while she was absently looking at the long dry jersey swaying on the terrace. It is a red jersey with number 6 printed on it. She was looking at it numbly, watching the lines of the fabric getting thinner and thinner. Everything was red again, voraciously red, threatening to eat her up. I’m so tired, so very tired, she murmured. 8

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*** – Svetlana, don’t touch your father’s jersey, leave the football boots, they’re not for you, you will break your bones! Dear God, what am I going to do with that child – Ivanka Kitić scolded her six year old daughter while she was putting back her husband’s soccer gear into the closet where was its place. – You will so go to school, you’ll be calm there! It was of no use. Every courtyard in Tuzla was a challenge for her, a place where she is supposed to try something new, gain territory, reveal a secret, invent something new, something easier, faster, more interesting. Always ready for motion of any kind, always ready to accomplish a new goal of some kind straight from her silly little head, she stopped for nothing, didn’t need anybody. There were few kids that could understand and follow her, but even being unaware why, they most often ran after her, just like little obedient soldiers follow their commander. It wasn’t important where and why, and even less when, because it was common knowledge that with Svetlana action starts abruptly. Moreover, she invented games constantly, even a few on the daily basis. There was an abundance of many different ones: from catching insects (it is of nobody’s concern if these are all our ants and mosquitoes) by using nets made out from scratch, digging trenches around the yard with all possible tools, to serious undertakes that would last for days, such as strategic warfare. Repelled Native Americans had to win, it was a fact, she personally would see to it. Haughty kids had been punished for the unbelievable impudence and abusive behaviour upon the weak ones. Salvation regularly arrived to them in the 9

Ceca – the story of Svetlana Kitic

last moment and in many different ways, but always in heroic acts. After all the severe battles and after all the proofs of courage similar to those made by the greatest generals, the hero was often in love with the prettiest girl. And we all know who that girl was. Unbelievably challenging and radiant, that beauty of ours, dressed in old, torn up rags, covered with soot, seemly from the hard work in poverty, but brave and just too good, was ready for her prince. It was not too hard for Svetlana to identify with that role; she really believed that she was the one, the chosen one. And, she was. Nobody was indifferent when she was in the picture. She brought up intense feelings in the most of the people throughout her life. Many people had to confess silently the influence she had over them even if they did not like her as a person. Being brave to follow her dreams no matter how silly they were, to follow her way and accomplish herself was also the case. – And why shouldn’t people like me, I want well to everybody! I keep out of people’s business, I don’t judge and don’t analyse other people’s actions, I accept everything and I see a bright side in everything. You of all people know how far I’m willing not to look through purple glasses, but through ones that are flowery the most – she told me many years later. And honestly, she believed in that, although she often paid a high price for that kind of magic. She didn’t like to pay much attention to misunderstandings (Life is to enjoy it!), to waste her time on arguments and quarrels, she resolved everything swiftly, in a stormy manner, briskly. She would react most passionately when something wasn’t going her way. When she was younger she solved 10

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that with brief, strong screaming with tears, jumping up and down until the dust has been heaved, or by fist pounding the nearest object, never longer than two minutes. She could even break a glass forcefully, or anything else that comes at hand. As an adult she could yell quite a bit, showing her temper and being all red with anger, but even when she was extremely angry and defiant one could see sparkles of true love in her eyes. The elders, just like all the kids, couldn’t resist her, they loved her escapades. The teachers let her off lightly when she was late for the morning classes, still scruffy and without washing her face, with a roll in her mouth, or even when she, because of whim known only to her, decided to leave the classroom, simply like that, out of pure whim. Sometimes that happened because it was sunny outside, or it was the scent of the lawn that had just been mowed, snow was also a possible reason, or she wanted to be ready for the boys in the yard and to be the first to attack them out with “all the weapons that were at disposal”. They let her get away with anything, so she managed to visit her favourite place, soccer stadium in Tusanj, many times a day. She was late for lunch, regularly being beaten by her mother because of that, but she was persistent. After saying sweet sorry mummy I won’t do it again, she would act the same. She was storming in the house soullessly, loaded by her school bag, balls and a bunch of trifles that she picked up on the way back; she ate mainly on her feet. As a snack she would take a greased slice of bread sprinkled with red pepper, put it between her teeth, so she could skilfully climb down the fence. In a blink of an eye, she 11

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would be on the street. In such a hurry, many things would fall out of her pockets and drop out of her hands, sometimes even a slice of buttered bread, that’s why sparrows followed her very often. She would give them a piece, and put the rest of it into her mouth after a short blow and without checking if it was clean, she kept on chewing hastily. So she wouldn’t waste time and miss out on the game. She would wipe her mouth with her sleeve, and then, in order not to be lectured by her mother that she messed herself again, she used her spit to clean her face right in front of their door, and she used her too short jeans to clean the muddy shoes. They seemed even two numbers wider, because her pockets were always filled with various trifles. Her mother was constantly nagging about that before washing her clothes. She said that she was expecting frogs to start jumping out while she was patiently disposing all of her “unnecessary thingies”. She resembled irresistibly to Pippi Long Stocking, that fearless, most interesting girl in the world, and just like that freckled hero of the Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren, Svetlana Kitic marked the entire century as well. *** The green field of the soccer stadium Tusanj had something special. It was not difficult for her to jump over the wiry, rusty fence, or simply and skilfully, without any scratch she went through all the major holes around the stadium, sometimes the reason was just to walk barefoot on the short grass, simply for the pleasure, but always with a ball. When she was not allowed to go outside, she would stand on the 12

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terrace gazing at the field for hours, even when there was nobody on it. She would then imagine events. She liked to imagine things a lot. She played the whole game in her head, and the hero was, of course, her father. It was easy for her to imagine things, but also to adopt all the football moves and she was excellent in handling the ball. She often watched her father while he was training, and she would cheer at the top of her lungs so he would score, she was screaming and yelling through the window as if someone could hear her. In the grey mining colony Lipnica near Kreka, her shrieks echoed every God given day. Family Kitic were old inhabitants of Tuzla, Svetlana’s father Dusan was working as an occupational safety clerk for the Tuzla miners. He played football in his spare time. – Football is not for girls, it’s better for you to run with your girlfriends around the schoolyard and play with them a bit – he gave her this advice, and soon Svetlana found herself on the athletic track. Long-jump, 400 meters, she enjoyed in all those things and was successful, but she was not hung up on that for too long. – I don’t want to do that again! I’m just running like crazy, I have nobody to talk to and there is no ball to fool around with it. Basket ball was almost ideal for her. It is bigger than the soccer ball, all clumsy and goofy, she murmured but it can pass. It bounces well. She ran like hell for the practice and, more than just skilfully, dribbled the ball with her unusually large hands. – Hands and feet, mother Ivanka whispered, man, she looks as if she is more than eleven years old, she should get even that from me. Gordana and Slobodan are different, somehow proportional... 13

Ceca – the story of Svetlana Kitic

– Yes, and then I have to defend them when somebody bullies them – Svetlana talked back like she was insulted but she took it in jest. Actually she enjoyed behaving protectively upon her seven years younger brother Slobodan. Even when she was younger she was faster and more skilful than him, even in all men’s games. So she was the one that steered him in the right direction, supported him and taught him some important tricks so he could be better than his friends. She didn’t have to pay special attention on her younger sister Gordana because she was all girly and loved to play with dolls. However, she kept an eye on her. She kept a close and protective relationship towards her sister and her brother, as well as to her parents, even later through her life, no matter how apart they were. Gordana graduated from economics. During the war she and her family had to move to Australia, and from Melbourne she maintained contact with her sister and brother. Slobodan stayed in Tuzla, started working as a lathe operator and got married. He is often in Belgrade visiting his older favourite sister. With her restless spirit and hands that were always busy, she did not care about all the warnings and restrictions when she was ill from the meningitis being only eleven years old. After her regular all day long sojourn during the summer break, she came back to the house and just collapsed in front of the door. She had a high fever, but nothing indicated that she had caught such a severe illness. Testing lasted for days, and even at one point her life was in jeopardy, so it was not a surprise that, in the first period of her recovery, her parents did not allow her to protrude even slightly through the door. Meningitis is not a joke, her father warned her even later, but she had already found a way to sneak out and keep on 14

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chasing. On basketball practice, after the first few sessions, she got a nickname “Kalimero” and her coach’s pedagogical explanation that she was “a little” too short for basketball. She didn’t like that, but she was not shook up too much by his words, especially after her teacher Branko Desic invited her to drop by on the handball practice. They are not much taller than me, Svetlana consoled herself and without thinking she found herself being a goalkeeper, not noticing that other girls did not want to go there. Tiny, swift and small she managed to stop almost every ball, exposing her body even to unnecessary hits, so soon she felt pain from the new game. She did not mind anything, and she easily overcame all the pain. She realized that people who are frightened and always beware of something often get punched on the nose more than those who courageously go forward. This time only her nicely sculptured little nose hurt a bit, after a reckless throw of a very strong girl, but she was mostly hurt by the acknowledgement that she had been fooled. After half an hour, she realized that no other player wanted to replace her on the goal and that in some way she had been used. She didn’t want to be seen how insulted and angry she was so she eluded slowly from the goal, in the half-squat, not to be noticed, took the ball and placed herself slyly in the court far away from goal-post. And there, there was a true heaven! – Oh, this is so good, like it was made for me! – she sparkled at home. Her teacher did not have to explain her twice, and often she performed tricks prior to his showing. He was bedaz15

Ceca – the story of Svetlana Kitic

zled by her moves, sense and understanding of the game, and especially by her effort, so soon he put her in the hot spot, position of a guard, where she could move freely, and react instinctively, being vivacious in the game as a little tiger. In the same way she felt what the right time for taking a shot was, the quickest way to evade the opponent, a decisive moment to stop the player from the opposing team while attacking. However, she liked to throw the ball the most, so she scored even ten goals per game and soon became the best scorer of the Second league and the best player of the handball club Jedinstvo from Tuzla, the club for which the entire school team played. She was a born leader, and that role she embraced happily and acted accordingly. She was snappish, responsible and brave. For not being afraid and anxious about anything, she was surprised when her team mate told her that she was afraid to cast the ball as much as she should and as much as the coach asked of her, because she was terrified of missing the goal. So, half serious and half in jest, she said: – My God, Mira, it’s just a game, nothing bad can happen to you! It’s not a boogie man, to be afraid, it’s not even dark. In the next game Mira scored five goals out of six shots. Svetlana started to get recognized on the street as a player, so hiding from her parents was pointless, as well as throwing the gear from the balcony and getting out from the house with books under her armpit with an explanation: – I’m off to Mira’s to cram. – Is there something that you hide from us? – her father asked reluctantly when his friends informed him about his daughter’s sports accomplishments. She was stuttering and evading, but at the end she confessed everything with an in16

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nocent face expression, and stayed alive and intact. It was a relief for her also, for she was hiding for a year and a half. – Be quiet, at least she is focused on something, somewhere where she can use her energy, that uncontrollable energy, and she is not doing something stupid – her mother was relieved, although she did not like that Svetlana acted on her own. – Daddy, daddy you should see how the little ball behaves in my hand, I can do whatever I want with it! – she was bragging to her father, overwhelmed with joy that she could talk about handball as much as she pleased. She has always had an irresistible need to show and express her feelings. And she was not aware whatsoever of the fact that other people seldom do that, even as a grandmother at the age of fifty. – That is precisely what makes you special, that innocent naturalness of yours as well as the openness, the way you open those fawn-like eyes of yours. People would say, she is like a truly innocent baby! – I made a joke at the celebration for the best female handball player of all times held in hotel Hyatt. – Well, it’s exactly like that, we female athletes are real babies to other people, but nobody notices that, their judgment is clouded by our powerful appearance and competitiveness on the court. We only play fairly and truthfully, and we think that all the people do the same, openly and without ulterior motives. Unfortunately it’s not like that. We suffered a lot and we had lost many times, but I wouldn’t change places with others not even for that. It’s their loss not ours. Who doesn’t notice our quality is not worthy of our attention, and those who can see our goodness and tenderness, 17

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will gain a lot – Svetlana Magic continued to conclude after the ceremony while looking lovingly at her fourth husband. On her revealed and perfectly shaped knee, with just a few damaged skin lines, she was dandling her first grandchild, beaming with joy like a schoolgirl. She glistened with happiness surrounded by her friends and the representatives of the world handball association that chose her to be the best in the world ever, and by us her team mates. – You didn’t play... you simply gave the game a form with your body! – I chose the words deeply moved by her and our success. – So free, complete, overwhelmed by the game more than anybody. Solely because of that freedom you were chosen to be the best in centuries. To play with such passion, lasting for so long and to be persistent. And even now you have the same courage to live your way, despite of people’s opinion about that. You are perfect just the way you are, with all your flaws. – I’ve just got goose bumps, look! You are wonderful, I love you – Ceca started crying and hugged me strongly. Although our sports and life ways often went in different directions, and although we were not hanging out much in our club or the National team, we were very close, sensing each other well and respected each other. We were two completely different characters, of the same first name and nickname, being peers and playing on the same position in the team, the right guard (although she was right-handed), but with totally different sensibility and athletic path (I started playing handball when I was sixteen at that time she had already been proclaimed the best in the world!), together and alongside we had passed through many life dramas for which we will always stay connected. 18

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– Mum, why are people afraid to show what is in their heart? – little Svetlana was curious. – They are afraid not to be hurt, my darling, they refrain because adults sometimes abuse their honesty, mother Ivanka tried to explain. – I will never be afraid, never; it’s as if you are not alive! – she defiantly replied and went to the practice. *** At the matches she played like it was a regular practice. She was so relaxed and into the game that she didn’t have the time to feel nervous. It happened sometimes that she went to the toilette two times in the row, grunted something to herself, loudly slapped her hands, and that was all. And everything that was happening to her, she experienced deeply and strongly. It was easy when she was joyful. It was easy to deal with her uncontrollable happiness when she won, but with sadness after the defeat, that was the hardest thing to overcome. Her silence and pouting, the outbursts of anger and tears, there were just a few people in the house who could calm her down. She was twitching in her dream, rewinding the game in her head like she was still playing it and she was doing so for the rest of her life. Mainly, she had peaceful and healthy dreams. She was rarely losing. In the year 1972, girls slowly started to leave handball, they turned to some other responsibilities, but not Svetlana. She was throwing herself on the concrete court as if she was made of rubber, hid her bashed up knees from her coach so she could stay in the game, she was running as if it was the world record at stake, not minding the power of the opponent, and she never admitted inferiority to anyone. 19

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As the best scorer of the league, she did “only” three things and talked about them, without an idea that they are the essence of the handball: – I jump and if somebody hits me so I could not throw, I give the ball to the player on the line, and if she is covered, I pass it to someone who is open or I throw it over to the side. There are plenty of us so something new, even better appears... With that kind of thinking in 1973, she became a member of the junior National team of Bosnia and Herzegovina and became the main interest of many clubs from Yugoslavia. The most interested was the most successful one – Radnicki from Belgrade. Eager to score a goal more, she discovers a “fourth thing”: being right-handed, she jerked the defensive player to the right, then to the left, then again to the right and then she throws herself through an empty space towards the goal. She did that spontaneously, genuinely and so unaware of her natural moves that many years later she claimed that that move, her greatest asset, was shown to her by the handball wizard Vinko Kandija. Well, it wasn’t just like that. – You see David, my God; this child goes into the feint naturally?! We should just let her be for a while and tame her to some extent – whispered the impressed Kandija, the coach of Radnicki and the National team, to David Kalinic. He enjoyed watching Ceca outsmarting the players from the senior National team of Yugoslavia during the testing of the “blue hopes” in Belgrade. Kalinic, the chairman of the club and the respectable political official who could also estimate and discover a talent when he sees it, agreed with Vinko Kandija that Svetlana is, 20

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without any doubt, the most gifted player, as if she was made for Radnicki. So he went with his associates to the club’s headquarters, Belgrade tavern Starac Vujadin, to talk to Dusan Kitic. – These people are serious, why wouldn’t you play for them, her father spoke, while it was resounding in her head: – I will leave Tuzla... my home... my family... Her heart was racing from the excitement in her ears; she was not even able to talk while her thoughts were swarming in her head. Many things were on her mind. She was feeling anxiety and fear, joyfulness and sorrow while the pictures were passing in front of her widely spread eyes. A new emotion overcame her; it overwhelmed her even later in life prior to important games or other important events. It was the challenge, her strongest moving force. In May she was already preparing for a trip to Belgrade and Radnicki, the trip that would last 12 years. – Try, you have nothing to lose – her mother encouraged her. – Try to find your luck, something better than here in Tuzla. You see that we are barely scraping by... Try, and if it is not working, come back home; this will always be your home – she said and stoically walked Svetlana to an old dusty road. She shed tears that night on the shoulder of her husband, in the dark and the silence of their modestly furnished room. Ceca sat in the elegant black limo between the two biggest men she had ever seen, strapping David Kalinic and slim, straight as an arrow, commissioner of Radnicki, Branko Kosovic. Everything that she heard from them seemed interesting until she arrived in Belgrade and stepped into the cold hotel Turist in Sarajevska Street. She was well guarded and hidden from the public, had an aversion from the people and 21

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tall buildings, and she was mostly afraid of the sound of trolley and rails. She celebrated her fifteenth birthday on the 7th of June, 1975 in the company of the hotel waitresses and bartenders, extinguishing candles with her tears on the large, white cream-cake, a gift from David Kalinic. With her shaky hand, she wrote on the napkin: Uncle David, I can’t live without my mum and dad, I’m heading back home. thank you for everything, I will return all the money you have given me as soon as I graduate from the trading school and start working in the store. She left a tarnished note on the window of his house, somehow found a bus station and returned to Tuzla. Her mother did not ask anything and was not surprised. She knew her character well, readiness to do what she intents and to change her mind promptly. After she had spent three days in her favourite places, with her friends who in their hearts never said goodbye, she returned to Belgrade cheerfully as if nothing happened and there she found her new home. Her former club Jedinstvo did not easily give up on its best player, the little member of the National team, and since the contract had been breached in favour of her mother club, for the first time in her career, because of the handball regulations, Ceca had to stop playing for a year. And that year, was a productive one. *** She worshipped Vinko Kadija, and he dedicated a special attention to her, especially during the morning individual practice, when he worked with her without stopping for 22

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two hours. This fantastic handball expert, one of the best in the world of all times, did not allow standing still during the practice not even in the line waiting for a throw. Even then, one should at least hop in the spot and constantly twirl the ball around one’s body. With the same admiration she looked and listened to her team mates, real aces, Ivanka Suprinovic, Jadranka Antic, Zivka Stevanovic, Milenka Sladic, Zdenka Leutar... She remembered everything that they showed her with an astonishing speed but adopted only the things that she considered natural and used them on the court plentifully. She was included in every combination played in Radnicki, over twenty various handball starts, out of which plenty possibilities emerged, and out of that, further more and more to the infinity. The limitlessness of the handball intoxicated Svetlana: – I love the fact that it doesn’t have to end the way it was planned, the way we sat it up at the beginning. I also enjoy that from one move, in just one second, five new ones emerge, that in the middle of the move I can change my mind and in the last moment do something totally different. I do the thing I feel, that appears to be better, something that is least expected. Mm, lovely, like you are riding the wind! – with the same sense of freedom she enjoyed playing the next almost forty years. Curious, forceful, full of sparkling, with infinite energy, she rapidly became the favourite girl of the society on Crveni krst, and in handball all together, so she felt protected and needed, and that was the most important thing beside her spontaneity. In addition, she firmly decided to accomplish her dream. 23

Ceca – the story of Svetlana Kitic

– What a player, fantastic! Well, I’m going to be like that Mara Torti, in everything. I’m even going to wear jersey number 6 and I’m going to be the best in the world, even better than her! – she watched all the matches of the National team of Yugoslavia, especially the incredible Mara, who was also a very beautiful female player. She imagined her to be as powerful and unpredictable in the jersey with national emblem as her idol. At the same time, forcefully and rapidly she wanted to see what Belgrade offers, so one day was not enough to see and do what she wanted. She embraced freedom with all her heart, and her energy was infinite. It was an ordinary training match between Radnicki and the National team of Yugoslavia, almost all the players from Crveni krst played. Kandija played a double role also; he was the coach of the “Crusaders” and selector, so during the match he had been changing teams, just to see how the girls would cope and which position is the right one. In the second half, he put her in the National team for fifteen minutes, although she was inexperienced and the youngest one. She scored three goals out of three easy throws, assisted a bit and just like that, accidentally but intentionally, she nested into the National team. She was still in a junior category, but was already very strong, well built, thank God, confident, fast thinking, so she appeared a few years older. That impression was amplified by her make up (always and only an eye-lash mascara), but above all, by her natural sex appeal and special, seductive moves. Her amenity was never endangered by her almost men’s strength and competitiveness. 24

Svetlana Vujcic

Because of all that, and above all, her invisible force that was strongly present within her and mirrored through her immaculate technique, unique charm and defiance, she played by far the most interesting handball. That was of course the reason for the jealousy of some, less talented players: – Look at Ceca, as if she wants to seduce the whole world, just look at the way she is flirting – some players gossiped, but she did not notice them, as if she wasn’t aware of her irresistibility, she didn’t have time. She enjoyed life and herself. Soon she felt the taste of the first international tournament and so, being only 16 years old, she became the youngest, the sweetest “blue” player in the world of handball, without a single match played in the First league. She was still waiting for the certificate of withdrawal from her mother club Jedinstvo, eager to properly cash in the first handball steps of Svetlana Kitic to the wealthy Radnicki. She liked Odesa. The Black Sea was so romantic with so many scents in September, she spoke in amazement. And in the first match of the USSR Cup, not even slightly romantic, she played destructively almost like a man, against Czechoslovakia. She played in trance the last ten minutes, scored six goals, turned over the result and brought victory to the National team of Yugoslavia (23:17). In the evening, before they went to sleep, she had confided in her friends: – I have never been afraid until now! He caught me by surprise when he told me to enter the game that I thought I would break my teeth from shivering, but I didn’t have time... That night was sleepless. The pictures from her early childhood, play days in Jedinstvo, arrival to Belgrade took 25

Ceca – the story of Svetlana Kitic

turns in front of her tiresome eyes, followed by the freshest events from the first match played in the jersey with a national emblem. – Oh my God, is this real... Me, I’m a member of the National team of Yugoslavia! – she whispered to herself on the balcony of the hotel Arcadia gazing at the endless sea. She was next to the masters of the handball: Dragica Palaversa, Ivanka Suprinovic, Nadja Abramovic, Kaja Iles, Ana Titlic, with the forthcoming Zorica Pavicevic, Vesna Milosevic, and Rene Lepoglavec. And although she played the least, with experienced Palaversa she was our best scorer against the Czechs and Hungarians. She showed that she could be counted on, journalists emphasized. – I remember many details from that first entrance to the world – she remembered many years later. – After being defeated from an excellent Hungarians (19:13), led by the famous Amalija Sterbinska, we were horribly depressed because of the bed game and the result. But not for long, out of nowhere our famous singer Miki Jevremovic, took us to dinner and he sang for us whole night. It was wonderful, we forgot everything! Since Belgrade-based former winners of the 1973 World Championship ingloriously ended their competition even on the World Championship in Kiev two years later, rejuvenation was the next step. Two selectors Bogdan Margan – Vinko Kadija decided to tune in this mixed team on the Four-event contest of the nations in Bratislava and Trnovo (1976), so it would blossom the next year, on the B World Championship in Germany. Svetlana played with women old enough to be her mother, or older sisters, but that did not bother her or them, in any way. Many members of the National team were also playing 26

Svetlana Vujcic

for Radnicki, so Svetlana felt “blue colour” was close to her heart, like something that was naturally hers. And that was the way it happened. Having lovely manners and being very amiable towards her team mates, she respected the experience of the older ones and she wouldn’t find hard anything they asked her to do. However, the role of the “ordinary ones” was to perform all kinds of small favours and errands and there were only few of us beginners that could avoid an assignment. Svetlana was the first one from our generation to experience that, she was far mature than us and entered the “adult” world before the rest of us, in the club as well as in the National team, so in a way she acted as a link between the older and the younger ones, more modern handball players. We were different in many ways, the way we act, talk, dress and even understand and live sport and life all together, the way we play and perform technique. Ceca easily fitted every generation, but she was never fully a part of any. Mostly, when one enters a senior team, a club or a National team, a duty of ours was to show our utmost respect to the most experienced players, to listen to them and to apply their advices, as well as to do different errands in the team. At that time hierarchy was well respected and we did everything with a smile and pleasure, proud to be in the company of such aces. All those things that the older players did seemed huge and important, although, we would get mad in the moments of their exaggeration. The better and the more successful they were, they demanded less and they treated younger players with more understanding and respect. Because of her nice character and because she hadn’t felt inhibited within them, Ceca easily avoided all the “extreme 27

Ceca – the story of Svetlana Kitic

measures”, so she only brought coffee, when it was absolutely necessary, rarely sewed and ironed numbers on all the jerseys and performed the rest of the “hard” jobs, which were usual for sports life. Because of the fact that she was by far the youngest in all teams, Radnicki and the National team, during the preparations she often carried a net with balls, from the nearby hotel to the hall and back. It was an honour, and not a sign of belittling, always followed by a song, help and cheerful remarks of her friends, lucky that another tiresome workout was finished. There was always enough strength that remained for later goofing around. More experienced players taught her handball, along with all the important things in life, and she was a very advanced student. The way the first team of Radnicki and the best members of the National team played, was also the way they enjoyed themselves off court. They enjoyed everything to the maximum, boldly surrendering to the spirit and to the essence of life. They were hanging out with many other known athletes, and with their friends from childhood, the so called “ordinary people”, they had time for everybody, and a nice word and compulsory smile. Especially Svetlana. Players made something special out of the most ordinary, everyday and the most boring stuff, they gave a humorous tone to everything. They were successful but very natural and modest, and every affected manner was turned into mockery, so those qualities were also the reason why they were the favourite ones in every society.


I started charming people at an early age My mother Ivanka - my role model

My father, mother, Boban and I in my grandfather’s yard

My first preparations at the age of 16, with Radnicki on Zlatar. I even had the inflammation of the periosteum…

Tunisia – the first time I went abroad. We played on real wooden boards.

What can I do, she ran away from me again The 1977 World Junior Championships in Romania; the gold medal and the first title of the best in the world.

Katarina Witt who??? These are the moves of a true ice skater.

One of the numerous Yugoslavian Cup trophies; I’m wearing my Radnicki jersey Everybody asked me where the ball is… – wherever the trophy went – I threw it behind my back to Kaja Iles on the line. I went with it, we didn’t separate.

Sports model

Nobody can go pass me and Ema How Mara grew to like handball

Who can stay awake before the morning run at dawn?

I used to wear high heels on crutches as well

If there hadn’t been for the number 15 this book wouldn’t have existed. This is my Ceca in Radnicki in 1986.

Handing over of the captain ribbon at the Olympic Games in Moscow – my dreams started coming true

I adore butterfly

The Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980; the surname Sliskovic has been following me my whole life…

The double defense, or am I seeing double?

Good Lord, I just wonder how did I manage to fall there

Now you know why I don’t like sandwiches

Mara overseeing the signing of the contract with Ferara in 1991; she is still the keeper of the family piggy bag.

On the court in Italy, just seventeen days after giving birth in 1988

In Tunisia with Saska, in 2007, after 40 years I have always liked long hair, but because of playing I couldn’t let it grow so that it can look good. This is one of the attempts.

Receiving the IHF reward

When the coach can’t wait to go on court

Even now we would be the best handball team, at least in Serbia

On the court at the age of 49

At my 50th birthday party with Mara and my grandson Dragan; “Watch it, it’s not a ball”, my friends used to say

The traditional Radnicki tournament came back to life

Two out of three generations of female handball players with whom I had my biggest successes, at the celebration of my title of the best in the world

My angels

The dream trio – Dragica Djuric, Ceca Vujcic and I

Perhaps my grandson Dragan will be my successor…

Flowers for my flower, the president of the Handball Council of Serbia, Velimir Marjanovic is giving me the gift for receiving the title of the world’s best female handball player of all times

Ceca - the story of Svetlana Kitic, the worlds best handball player of all times  

This is the story about the greatest female handball player of all times, the mother of three, wife and grandmother, the story about a great...