Hope Rising: Banja Luka Open 2012 Olympic Qualifying Meet

Feature By Steven V. Selthoffer, Swimming World Chief European Columnist

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia and Herzegovina, April 7. THIS week marks the 20th anniversary of the start of the Bosnian War with ceremonies and television specials marking the event across Europe.

However, running contrary to the historical problems is Zeljko Panić, the swimming federations and athletes who are demonstrating the solutions not the problems, modelling integration, cooperation and a better future through sports.

Zeljko Panić, Director, Olymp SC, and his organizing team are bringing hope and reconciliation to war-torn Bosnia by hosting the Banja Luka Open 2012, May 05th — 06th, at the new swimming complex in Banja Luka, BIH. It's not “just a swim meet,” it's a world class event and it happens to be in Bosnia.

The new facilities are complete with an indoor, 10 lane, 50m Olympic swim pool, an adjacent 25m warm-up/warm-down pool, new Omega timing system and Omega starting blocks (used for London 2012 also), and the meet is officially on the LEN calendar, offering an opportunity for athletes globally, to make FINA 'A' and 'B' Olympic qualifying cuts.

As an ambassador for the sport, Panić and his team are not doing it just for the Bosnians, Croatians or Serbs, but, everyone. The door is open. He is expecting approximately 300 swimmers from 60-70 clubs originating from 10-15 different countries across Europe and Africa. “We've been reaching out to a number of clubs. The meet is growing. Milorad Cavic, SRB, and his contacts have helped a lot,” stated Panić.

Meet entries include world class athletes from: ADN Project, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Kenya, Macedonia, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia to name a few.

The pool of athletic talent runs deep in the Balkans- in all sports. Concerning the development swim programs, Panić said, “We are working on our age-group programs. It is going very good. We have about 300 young swimmers, mostly under 14 years of age. Hopefully, in another four to five years we will have some Olympians emerge out of this group.”

The swim program has been vital to helping to inspire children and their families to see beyond the high regional unemployment rates and political strife still plaguing the region.

Main sponsors include, m:tel (telecommunications), HypoGroup Alpe Adria (banking), ZBIL (Banja Luka Construction Institute), RTRS TV, Radio 94.4, Metromedia, and aquarius Olgilvy.

This year the television coverage is expanding as they are expecting a very exciting meet with large crowds as a number of top world-class and Olympic hopeful athletes participating, who will be posting fast times looking to qualify for London 2012.

For more information to enter or attend please go to:

Internet: www.BanjaLukaOpen.org
Email: Olymp2002@gmail.com

Note: Mr. Panić's first language is Serbian-Croat, we apologize in advance for any misquotes or misunderstandings.

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