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Croatia & Czech Republic: 2024 Pre-Season notes.

CROATIA Pine Marten - Croatia's national critter

AFAICT, Croatia’s 2024 WAWC A-team will be the same as 2023’s: Leona Popovic (25 years old) and Zrinka Ljutic (19). Leona runs SL exclusively, was 2023 EOS 6th; Zrinka EOS SL 12th and GS 40th. Nothing suggests Leona will soon change her ways. Zrinka will keep on GS and become a trusty Tech maven, maybe one of the best.

Leona Popovic

A strong competitor on a tiny National team, Leona’s been on WAWC’s SL radar for a couple of seasons. She finished 2nd in 2023’s final SL, besting Shiffrin (3d place) in both runs, ending 0.43 ahead of Mikaela. Splitting Petra and Her Highness on the podium is a great score; starting bib #4 showed that Popovic ran in rarified company all season. Just two finishes outside T10 and a single DNF in 2023—if she’s this consistent, and finishes every race, Leona will hang out EOS T6 for as long as she wants. Add a podium or two and she’s an elite player. Turns 26 in November.

Torn ACL/MCL at Beijing GS laid her low for 2019, then a careful return in 2020. Popovic’s a total SL specialist—which I guess reflects Croatian topography’s modest opportunities to become Speedy. Also broken tibia in 2015. Not sure when—I figure summer training, as she ran full schedule November 2014-March 2015, resuming February 2016 through April, both seasons cobbled together via multiple categories, including 2014-15 Nor-Am 14 starts. WAWC people heal from anything and go anywhere necessary to make the big league.

Although latter-career Speed transitions are often feasible, I suspect Leona’s leg misfortunes as well as her proven SL talent keep her a Techie for the duration. If GS is in the cards she’ll be dealt in 2026 latest. So, 2024 look for her in the 4th- to 9th- place season-long tussle.

WAWC EOS SL 2022 (Overall 51st) & 2023 (Overall 27th)

2023 SL 6th – 11 starts – 2nd; 7xT10; 2xT20; DNF

2022 SL 14th – 9 starts – 2xT10; 4xT20; 21st; 2xDNF

2022 EC EOS SL 9th – 4 starts – 2nd; 3xT10

FIS T10 results

SL - 5x1st; 2nd; 4x3d; 8xT10. 2014-2017

GS4x1st; 2nd; 8th 2014-2023

SG2nd; 3d; 4th; 9th 2014

National Championships - 8 meets 2014-2023

SL – 15 starts – 2x1st; 2nd; 6xT10; 6xDNF

GS – 11 starts – 1st; 3x2nd; 3d; 3xT10; 2xT20; 25th

SG – 1 start – 13th

DH – 2 starts – 2x15th

Nat Champs GS – 2023 win and 2021-2022 2nds show Leona’s got competitive chops against solid competition. May well add full GS schedule for prime years to strengthen her presence on the circuit as young Croats assert themselves, as well as for racing pleasure/rewards. Just stay healthy! No reason to hang it out for Speed.

Zrinka Ljutic

Precocious WAWC 2023 EOS SL 12th at age 19. Turns 20 January 2024. Was graduated from EC after just 3 seasons. Offering article below for Zrinka’s personal side. She’s getting a lot of publicity. Well-positioned to begin a Tech rampage—EOS T10 both Disciplines—by 2026, and true stardom if that trajectory’s angle holds for another few seasons.

Fawning media will go berserk next spring if Ljutic completes 8 of the scheduled 10 SLs, and every finish is at least T20. I’m gonna do it again here—add 3X9th place points (57) show how DNFs damage EOS. Looking at her 2023 points now…190 SL plus 57 = 247, would bump ZL into 9th place from 12th, if 10th & 11th stayed the same. Total speculation…not. Knock off 3 DNFs, anyone, any time, and EOS is much better. But guess what, this is speculative: 10th place--Hanna Elfman—had 3xDNFs too. Katharina Truppe, 11th place, had one DNF. So Zrinka definitely would pick up one spot. But Franzi Gritsch, 13th, had 3xDNFs and a DNQ. She could have overtaken Zrinka. Finish the races! It’s rule number two…after don’t get hurt. What a wild world it would be if everyone finished! There should be EOS prizes for highest finish percentages.

WAWC 2023 EOS Tech (Overall 41st)

SL 12th -- 11 starts – 3d; 3xT10; 15th; 29th; 5xDNF (arrrghh!)

GS 40th – 8 starts – 19th; 25th; 6xDNF/Q (grrrr)

European Cup EOS Tech 2021 (Overall 5th) and 2022 (Overall 24th)

2022 SL 22nd – 6 starts – 3xT10; 3xDNF

GS 15th – 5 starts – 1st; 7th; 13th; 33d; DNF

2021 SL 4th – 8 starts – 1st; 4xT10; 2xT20; DNF

GS 13th – 8 starts – 1st; 4th; 3xT20; 3xDNF/Q

Jr. Worlds – 3 meets 2021-2023

SL – 2 starts – 1st; DNF

GS – 3 starts – 3d; 2xDNF

SG – 1 start – 25th

National Championships – 4 meets 2020-2023

SL – 4 starts – 1st; 2nd; 4th; DNF

GS – 4 starts – 2x1st; 9th; DNF

FIS – All results (?) 2 starts - 9 & 12th November 2020 Solda, Italy. Very odd.

SL – 9th. GS – 21st

Olympics 2022

SL – 25th. GS – 28th.

WC Worlds 2023

SL – DNF2. GS – 17th.

I haven’t discovered when/where Zrinka’s racing skills developed prior to 9 November 2020. I assume the Croatian Ski Association, like national ski racing/sports organizations in other countries, selects and channels young talent through a formal program. Ljutic is the first athlete I’ve so far studied who has not run a significant number of FIS races prior to, or often concurrently with, Continental Cup (EC or Nor-Am) and/or WAWC events. Zrinka’s competition search options did not include University, City, or other local events/venues.

Thus, lacking “alternative” race categories to augment Ljutic’s race starts retrievable in’s data base, I’m seeing just 35 WAWC starts and 28 European Cup starts, plus probably another 25 or so Nationals, Jr and World Championships, Olympic starts per above. She must have run significantly more races than this; I haven’t found them.

Most curiously, lists no CIT races for Zrinka. Yet she’s in article’s lead photo:

FIS-CIT, as fis-ski calls it, is an important developmental circuit, esp for U18 and “…especially in regions outside the traditional areas of the Alps or Scandinavia.” Why doesn’t ZL appear in these events? Martina Dubovska, OTOH, has a dozen CIT starts. See her below.

What determines the points total? In 2023 Hanna, Emma, and Zrinka had at least 3x more points than 4th place.

I’m not a perfectionist, but lacking this information vexes me. For now, however, I will continue on without it. If you know Ljutic’s racing developmental history pre-2020, please let me know. I’ll treat you to a hearty lunch. If you’re far away, you may choose from a depressingly wide array of junk from my parents’ house, boxed/strewn in my garage, awaiting new homes. Shipping included.

If Zrinka runs another full WAWC SL in 2024, I think she’ll hold steady EOS SL T10/12. Too early for a real breakout, IMO. Definitely an intriguing talent. From such a small team, she’ll have all the support she needs—perhaps more attention than she wants. She and Elfman will be fun to follow/compare this season.

CZECH REPUBLIC Bohemian Shepherd!

Exhibit A: Ester Ledecka. See her Feature profile from 22 July. One of WAWC’s very best racers and engaging characters. If she knuckles down on Speed, she’ll be EOS T4/5 both Disciplines for next four years, no sweat…IMO.

I will report on two other Czech racers--Gabriela Capova and Tereza Nova--as the season progresses. Due to recent injury (Capova) and WAWC inexperience (Nova), I'm uncertain if they will be starting the competition calendar.

Martina Dubovska

Czech Republic’s veteran—107 WAWC starts, 58 Europa Cup starts; 3 Olympics (best 2022 SL 13th); 6 Worlds (3xT10 Team Parallel). Turning 32 February 2024. Disparate ski racing career, par excellence. Still hanging with National A team. In February 2021 Martina’s mother succumbed to injuries a week after an automobile accident. Horrible. Despite this, career best EOS SL 10th.

Oddest racing calendar I’ve seen. Would be interesting to study how a professional skier of middling talent travels the globe, sustaining a career. How does she finance this extended jaunt? Sponsors, government funding at national or regional level, personal assets?

WAWC EOS SL – 2021 to 2023 seasons. Best campaigns by at least 15 positions.

2023 SL 15th – 11 starts – 3xT10; 4xT20; 2xT25; 2xDNF

2022 SL 17th – 9 starts – 6th; 6xT20; 2xDNF

2021 SL 10th – 9 starts – 3xT10; 3xT15; 2xT20; 22nd.

2020 SL 32nd – 6 starts – 9th; 2xDNF; 3xDNQ

2019 SL 52nd – 8 starts – 23d; DNF1; 5xDNQ; DSQ1

2018 SL 54th – 8 starts – 26th; 29th; 2xDNF1; 4xDNQ1

Alarming SL DNQ/F frequency prior to 2021. Hard to believe. Example: 2016 8 starts 6DNQ; 2x26th

CIT 2008 to 2010 seasons - No EOS for Overall or Discipline. Good for FIS points reduction, though. (Or whatever they do with the points; need better understanding.) Affiliated with FIS-categorized races, esp for U18 and “…especially in regions outside the traditional areas of the Alps or Scandinavia.”

2010 CIT SL – 4 starts – 1st; 2nd. GS – 2 starts – 13th; DNF2

2009 CIT SL – 3 starts – 2nd; 5th; DNF

2008 CIT SL – 5 starts – 2nd; 9th; 2xT15; DNF2. GS – 1 start – 8th.

Europa Cup2021 best season.

EOS SL 7th – 4 starts – 1st; 4th; 2x6th.

Australia NZ Cup

2018 Overall 12th SL 9th GS 20th

2011 Overall 9 SL 1st; GS 30th

2010 Overall 24 SL N/A GS 11th

2009 Overall 10th. SL 9th GS 4th

Far East Cup What is this?


2020 Overall 13th SL 6th. GS 30th

South American Cup – 2 starts 2016. SL 1st; GS 5th

Amidst these far-flung venues, a solid WAWC SL racer abides. I guess she’ll retain EOS T18/20. With her experience, position probably secure on such a small team. Perhaps she’ll have a late surge and reinhabit EOS SL T12. Feel like I’m guessing. Will keep an eye on her during season. Dubovska strikes me as having a more interesting back-story than most WAWC athletes.


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