mercoledì 3 dicembre 2014

Filipovic, Steffens 'humbled' by World Player of the Year award

In a memorable Gala “Soirée des Etoiles” (Evening of the Stars), held after a successful two-day FINA World Aquatics Convention and FINA Swimming Coaches Golden Clinic, the FINA honoured the best athletes of the year of 2014 in all disciplines with respective awards in Doha, Qatar on Monday. For the water polo athletes Filip Filipovic and Maggie Steffens got the honour. The title for both was not new after becoming the respective first ones to win it two times, however the set-up of the actual collection was rather different from before where the winners would receive their trophies on an other convenient occasion. Now the gala looked as a perfect surrounding to an award this big. Both Filipovic, who had just flown in after having played a Champions League match with his team Pro Recco in Kragujevac, Serbia on Sunday night, and Steffens after receiving their award declared to feel 'humble' and 'thankful', both clearly impressed by the gala set-up. 

Filipovic was the first to express his satisfaction of being able to make it to Doha to receive his award, whereas he previously was under the impression that he could not make it. 'I'm a little tired after yesterday's match, but looking at all this here makes me realise it would have been a mistake not to be here', he said. The left-handed Serb, one of the pillars of the national team that in dominant fashion won the World League and European Championship this season, once again emphasized the importance of his team-mates: I'd like to dedicate this award to my team-mates knowing it is only a build-up for the most exciting and important competition for our generation which are the 2016 Rio Olympic Games', the Serb declared. 

When asked Filipovic could explain the importance of the award to him personally telling it feels 'as a (second) confirmation of all the work I’ve put in my sport and myself for the last twenty years that I've been playing water polo'. He stressed that 'moments like this are magnificent but should also motivate to continue to get better'. Despite 2014 being a busy year for the Serbian leftie, it did not feature only success as Filipovic with his team Radnicki lost the final of the Champions League to Barceloneta and fell short to rivals Red Star Belgrade in both the Super Cup and domestic championship battle. When asked to reflect on his year, the current Pro Recco player does not ignore these moments: due to some reasons I felt that we weren't always mentally prepared enough to give it our very best on the decisive moments', he starts. 'I don't feel as if we lost these big games to better opponents but simply weren't as mentally prepared as we should have been.' 'We had a great team and great atmosphere and so I cannot forgive myself for these occasions which I can only regret.' 

'But as a professional I'm always looking forward and so was happy to see our performance in Dubai (World League Super Final), despite the tournament being regarded as a sort of 'preparation'.' 
'And at the European Championships we weren't ready for the big matches in the first week but showed we can come back and improve with the quarterfinal match against Greece as the turning point in my opinion. And of course the semifinal against Montenegro where we did not existed for over one period but stood up in the second half to still win. It made me very proud of not only my team-mates but also the coaching staff to see everyone kept believing and it paid off. That is a promising sign for the future and having said that, I can congratulate the younger guys who went on to win the FINA World Cup showing that we can look forward to the future of Serbian water polo with confidence.'

Maggie Steffens

Where Filipovic was the first male water polo athlete to win the FINA award twice, Maggie Steffens did so in the female category. After the successful year of 2012 where the US women became Olympic champions, Steffens enjoyed another showing internationally in 2014 as MVP of the World League Super Final, won by Team USA, while also being part of the team that won the FINA World Cup. Steffens' first reaction was a humbled one: 'It feels great. Winning this award is a great honour but also feels humbling. I truly feel fortunate to be up there receiving the award among all those great athletes and watch all their videos made me even more excited.'

And like her male counterpart, Steffens was also right there to underline the importance of her team-mates this year: 'I wouldn't have been here without them and that's why I love water polo, because it's such a team sport. Receiving this award was a great representation for our team as a whole.' But an award like this is likely to hold quite the importance for an individual athlete? 'It is a great honour and again I feel very fortunate but at the same time realise this is a team sport and that's the most important thing is keep going forward. But I'm grinning cheek to cheek, and it's great to have the Steffens name out there, as my dad always says. I feel proud of that and I know my family is proud so it makes me feel great', the US national team standout replied.

Steffens can look back at a successful international summer with Team USA winning both the World League and World Cup. That doesn't mean the Stanford college player is satisfied: 'I'm very happy with our results and being on top of the podium but realise there's still a lot to improve on and so look at it as just a stepping stone. And I take that to heart and looking forward to advancing from this on our way to as many championships and podiums as we can', she concluded.

Previous winners

Elizabeth Armstrong (USA) - women / Vanja Udovicic (SRB) - men

Alexandra Asimaki (GRE) - women / Filip Filipovic (SRB) - men

Maggie Steffens (USA) - women / Josip Pavic (CRO) - men

Jennifer Pareja (ESP) - women / Denes Varga (HUN) - men

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