Road to Paris: Jere Hribar Looks to Add to Croatian Sprint Heritage

Jere Hribar Photo Courtesy: Reagan Cotten/LSU Athletics

Road to Paris: Jere Hribar Looks to Add to Croatian Sprint Heritage

The road to the Olympics takes swimmers from all over the world through the American college system. From far and wide, countries big and small, a litany of colleges can contribute to the 800 or so Olympic swimmers that’ll converge on Paris this summer. In the six months until that happens, we’re going to shine a light on the journeys of some of those swimmers in a new series of stories on The Road To Paris.

At 6-foot-8, Jere Hribar is quick to pre-empt the question. No, he doesn’t play basketball. But basketball informs his sporting journey.

Hribar’s father, Lovre, played a little basketball in his native Croatia, around his main sport, as a goalkeeper in water polo. The hoops on the side ended when Lovre injured his knee, which would serve as a potent admonition for his son. Part of Lovre’s rehab took place in the water, with young Jere often in tow.

“When he injured his knee, he started going to swim every afternoon, so I went sometimes with him, and that’s when I started to love swimming, and I asked him if I could swim in the club,” Jere Hribar said last week. “And the rest is history.”

If 2024 goes a certain way, it could be Olympic history for Hribar. The LSU freshman is off to a fast start to his college career. A native of Croatia’s second city, Split, he’s one of a pair of sprinters vying for spots at the Paris Games.

Hribar’s journey from the Balkans to the Bayou started even before his big break. Hribar had what looked from the outside like a breakout summer of 2022. He finished second in the 50 freestyle at the European Junior Championships in July, a spot behind David Popovici. He followed it up by finishing second to Popovici two months later in the 100 free at the World Junior Championships and third in the 50 free, behind Portugal’s Diogo Ribeiro and Nikolas Antoniou of Cyprus.

Those swims didn’t so much put him on the radar as they affirmed the early interest he’d gotten. At the front of the line was LSU coach Rick Bishop.

“Coach Rick and LSU saw potential in me and in my times before Euro 2022,” Hribar said. “We spoke before European Juniors, and after European Juniors, that was just my confirmation that I wanted to go to LSU because they offered me a lot, even before I was, I would say, good enough.”

Hribar went into that summer smarting from the previous Euro Juniors in 2021. He’d been the second seed out of semis in the 50 free at 22.80 seconds but in the final went 23.03 to finish in a three-way tie for sixth.

Those swims in Rome showed him what he could do, and it took a year to put all the pieces together.

“After that year, I was motivated more than ever,” Hribar said. “And I knew I had results to be top three in Europe. But the silver and bronze medal at Worlds, that surprised me a lot.”

Things progressed quickly for Hribar. As a sophomore in high school, he figured he’d pursue swimming in his home country as best he could. By the time he was a junior, though, he realized that the United States’ college system was the better fit for his ambitions, academically and athletically.

Hribar is at the forefront of a Croatian sprint revitalization. If you think about Croatian male swimming, chances are that Duje Draganja’s name comes to mind first. A world record holder in the short-course meters 50 free and the silver medalist at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Draganja remains the No. 14 all-time performer in the LCM 50 free. A big part of Draganja’s journey to international prominence was his time in the United States, as an NCAA champion at the University of California.

Hribar has grown close to Draganja, who also hails from Split and has offered mentorship and encouragement.

“He congratulated me on the medals at the World Juniors and European Juniors,” Hribar said. “That means a lot, from an Olympic silver medalist to say, you’re good, just keep doing the good work.”

The path to Paris is challenging, but it may ultimately be fulfilling for Croatia. Both Hribar and Nikola Miljenic, a USC grad, are in hot pursuit of the A standard in the 50 free. Hribar’s best is 22.17 seconds, while Miljenic last month threw down a 22.00 best time at the Gyor Open in Hungary. The A cut is 21.96 seconds, and Miljenic has the consideration standard of 22.07.

Hribar’s best in the 100 free is 49.10, with 48.34 as the A cut. Miljenic has been 49.03.

Hribar’s recent improvement gives him hope that he can get to the A standard. Getting two in the event would be a monumental achievement for the country’s swim program.

“It would mean a lot to have two guys picking up A cuts in the 50 free,” he said. “I would say there’s not a lot of countries that could say that they have two swimmers with an A cut in the 50 free, but it would mean a lot. We had a world record holder, we have an Olympic silver medalist from Athens, so for me, this year’s goal is to just to go to the Olympics and maybe in 2028 I’ll shoot for finals or maybe more.”

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