Coach to generations of European swimmers, Dr. Dimitrij Mancevič passed away at the age of 58. After our obituary yesterday, Peter Mankoč penned the following in memory of a mentor who will be much missed by those he knew and worked with. At a time when coaching, among other guardianship roles in sport, comes under the spotlight for some off the worst reasons possible, here is a brief recollection of a man who did his best for swimmers, had their back and fought blazers walking a bad path in clay feet on athletes rights.
A tribute Dr. Dimitrij Mancevič from Peter Mankoč, the most decorated swimmer in Slovenia’s history in the pool and an athlete who trained when already a serving police officer.
Well, I am deeply heartbroken by the passing of Dr. Dimitrij Mancevič. We started to work together in 1998.
Unfortunately, my previous coach had passed away at the time and our club was looking for a new coach to take over top group in the club. Dimitrij was coaching Metka Sparavec, who was the best female swimmer at the time racing under our club name.
We saw the way he worked and the results of his coaching, which was totally unorthodox for Slovenia. Most of Slovenia swimming was still trapped in the era of the Petrič brothers from the time of Salnikov (volume, volume, volume). The first time my squad went to training camp with Dimitrij, we did not use a stop watch during the whole 14 days … and improvements were noticeable.
Dimitrij got me to grasp that technique is the no.1 thing. His saying was:
“If you can not do it correctly then do not do it”.
He never made any promises that we would be great swimmers but simply said ‘follow my advice and you will improve’.
At the time, I was 20 years and so were my fellow swimmers, all of us already developed swimmers. Even so, Dimitrij managed, with his knowledge and approach to practices, to take us to another level. In just three years, I went from a swimmer who could barely make finals at Europeans to one capable of winning medals and even breaking a World Record.
What I admired about Dimitrij was that he impressed upon us all that no matter how good you are, you have to find another way to get better. He never rested on results achieved. He never felt it was beneath him to ask other coaches for advice to try to find new ways of practicing with his swimmers and program.
Dimitrij had me doing everything from ballet to aerobics, work with kettlebells … and much more. He was always trying to find whatever it was that could help us to get better. He was a coach who always matched my desire to be better and better still. He always found a way to get practice done even if conditions were terrible. He really dedicated himself to swimming.
I believe, down the years, that I spent much more time with him than his family could have. He always tried, of course, not to neglect his family and he would sometimes bring them on training camps. But he was always a true professional.
You could joke with him and have normal conversations on just about any subject but when it came to swimming and practices, there was no letting go, no way out, no distraction allowed. The Plan had to be executed to the highest standard possible.
Dimitrij always had our back. He fought our battles with federations. He treated us all like any good father would his own kids. He was always fighting for our rights to get the best possible conditions for us. A lot of times it got him into trouble but he believed in doing the right thing and stood by his beliefs.
For sure, my life would have been totally different without him there as guide and guardian.
I am sure I would never have come even close to the career I managed to have. I would not have had such a love of swimming. I probably would not even have met my wife Triin [Triin Aljand, fellow international and now mother to the couple’s daughter Brina] if it was not for him and his love for holding training camps in the French Pyrenees.
Of course, we also had our disagreements and fights. We were both competitive and always tried to be the best we could be. But he was the BOSS and I trusted him and he trusted me so we always found a way to incorporate our ideas and visions.
Dimitrij was a coach who also listened to swimmers and their views on practices. He was such a great coach: he always tried to encourage you to experience other training programs, such as those ofthe likes of Gennady Turetski, Dirk Lange, Andrea Di Nino … he always wanted us to achieve more, even if for some of the time we would achieve that with another coach.
Dimitrij was truly a great man, a mentor who I had the honour to meet, know, work with and also call my friend.
He worked for swimming and swimmers until the very last breath he had so that he could pass his knowledge on to others. The world of swimming has lost a great coach – and and even better person. RIP Dr. Dimitrij Mancevič.