With the Slovenia Open having officially gotten underway on Tuesday in Laško, Croatian players are currently fighting to win as part of their qualifying campaign for the 2016 Summer Paralympics. The Croatian team includes Sandra Paović, Anđela Mužinić, Helena Dretar Karić, Mirjana Lučić, Danijel Lazov, Nino Baša, Tomislav Špalj, Vjekoslav Gregorović, and Pavao Jozić.
Croatian Table Tennis Association of Persons with Disabilities (Croatian: Hrvatskog stolnoteniskog saveza osoba s invaliditetom) President Dragan Rakic was quoted by hrsport.net as saying, “At the moment, we have a big chance that at the 15th Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next year because of the performances from Sandra Paović, Angela Mužinić, Helena Dretar Karic, Mirjana Lucic and Tomislav Špalj.” He highlighted the need of the athletes to improve their rankings this year and continue to perform at a high level, citing this as a reason the team was in Slovenia. He went on to say, ” I believe we will succeed in everything and going into the Paralympic Games we will have our best table tennis team.”
Class 6 Paović is currently ranked 19th in the world in the women’s standing category while Class 10 teammate Lučić is ranked 11th in the world. Class 3 Mužinić is currently ranked 10th in the world in the women’s wheelchair category while fellow Class 3 teammate Dretar is ranked 28th in the world. Class 3 Baša is ranked 244th in the men’s wheelchair category, while Class 4 Špalj is ranked much higher at 32nd. Class 6 Jozić is ranked 149th in the men’s standing category. Lazov and Gregorović are currently unranked.
The Croatians delegation is part of one of the largest gatherings of table tennis players in some time. The amount of competitors tops the number participating at last year’s World Championships in Beijing. 419 total players from 47 countries on five continents are participating in Laško.
Anđela Mužinić is busy outside her own Rio ambitions. Inside Croatia, she participates in School Days events organized by Hrvatskog Paraolimpijskog Odbora, Croatia’s national Paralympic Committee, and sponsor Allianza. These events often include lectures, disability sport games and the opportunity to talk to disability sport athletes.