The recent European Rowing Junior Championships in Belgrade, Serbia provided the opportunity.

“It was a long time ago, but I still remember it really well” Nikola Stojic, Event Manager of the 2020 European Rowing Junior Championships said as he met up with Jean-Christophe Rolland, now FISA President, to reminisce about racing in the final of the men’s pair at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

Stojic was representing Yugoslavia and Rolland France and they met in the final on 23 September 2000 on Penrith Lake.

“Sydney has a special place in my heart, it was a great Games,” Rolland says, reflecting on what was his third Olympic Games, his first Olympic gold and one of the most extended and memorable sprints in the history of the sport. Rolland had come fourth in the men’s pair in Barcelona and won a bronze medal in Atlanta.

For Stojic, it was his first Olympic Games (he would go on to compete at three more), but he already had an accomplished international rowing career having raced at World Championships at senior, under-23 and junior level. During his career, he had represented Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro and, most recently, Serbia. Stojic was still competing until just four years ago, racing in the men’s four at World Rowing Cup I in 2016 as a 41-year-old.  This was Stojic’s first Games and, he says, also his favourite.

Reflecting on the final, Stojic says; “JC [Jean-Christophe] had a crazy finish, which started at 1250m, we just didn’t have enough juice to match it. We were pretty disappointed finishing fifth as we had been hoping for a medal.”

Stojic and his crewmate Djordje Visacki had finished second in their semifinal, only half a second behind Australia.

“There had been lots of rumours around our tactics,” says Rolland, “but we had planned to go early. Our third 500m had always been out weakest, but this time it was our fastest.” 

Indeed, the French pair were in fourth position at the halfway marker, but by the 1500m line, they had rowed through the United States, Yugoslavia and Great Britain and were now leading the pack by just under a second. The Yugoslav duo couldn’t match the pace and slipped from second to fifth in the second half of the race.

“It is important to remember that every crew in the final can win,” says Rolland, “and it is about taking a risk and pushing the limits. We took a risk and it paid off, but I wouldn’t really advise the kids to try and replicate what we did! Kids talk to me about the race still now and they weren’t even born at the time! The difference was in the head which enabled us to do what we did.”

As the two Olympians, who have gone on to become key administrators within sport, continued to reflect, Rolland says, “It is something that is very special about our sport – everyone is always very friendly, even when we are fierce competitors.”