Olympics and Doctorate - Daria and Dania Obratov with big goals
Split (FIL) Two ambitious, attractive and intelligent sisters have dedicated themselves to luge. 32-year-old Daria Obratov and her seven years younger sister Dania are cosmopolitans with heart and ambition.
Both sisters were born in Split, Croatia, and have competed in luge for the Netherlands for the past four years. They love travelling, foreign cultures and countries, the international friendships in the FIL family and of course the sport of luge.
Daria graduated in sports science in the Netherlands, finished her competitive sports career after the 2022 Olympic season and will now move to Trondheim in Norway to get closer to her goal of a PhD. Her younger sister Dania is still studying in Croatia until 2023 - also in the field of sports science - and will continue her luge career to still fulfil her dream of the Olympics.
Daria came to winter sports “totally accidentally”
As a teenager she was a handball player in the Croatian junior national team. After a serious sports injury to her knee and eight operations, she was inspired to take up luge by a doctor during her rehabilitation: "Ever since I was little my dream was to become an Olympian! When I was six years I watched the Olympics in Atlanta and I said to my parents that one day I'll be at the Olympics - everyone laughed to that idea but it only took me 22 years to prove them wrong”. (haha - Daria laughs).
In the 2007/08 season, at the age of 18, Daria tried luge for the first time in Igls. "Iona Apostol and Robert Taleanu were my first coaches. From the first run, it clicked and I loved everything about the sport. The most fascinating thing about luge is how concentrated and precise you have to act while sliding at speeds of usually more than 130 km/h," Daria enthuses.
Five years later, at the age of 16, her younger sister Dania also started luge. "I fell in love with luge thanks to Daria. When I was 12, I went to the World Cup at Königssee for the first time with my parents. My sister showed me life with luge behind the scenes and I found everything very exciting. I saw how fun sliding looks live, I met many international athletes and realized how luge community is really just a big family and I loved it! Just a few years later I became a part of that same family”!
Dania's first coaches were Petr Kinzel and Yuriy Hayduk. "The speed was fascinating from the beginning. It all felt so fast. I loved the feeling when I was at the finish line and had mastered a run. You get to know yourself in a different way and start to believe in yourself. It's addictive. I especially love the tracks in Oberhof and Lake Placid."
First Croatian female luger at the Olympics
The elder of the two sisters, Daria made history in 2018 in PyeongChang as the first Croatian female luge athlete to compete at the Winter Olympics. "The PyeongChang Olympics were a dream come true for me. I wouldn't have been able to realise this dream if I didn't have the endless support of my parents, who covered so many costs and who are also our biggest fans and always encouraged us to keep going. The Olympic Games in PyeongChang were the highlight of my career. It was also very special to share that with my family and see them cheering me on at the finish line. That was truly an unforgettable moment!"
International Fair Play Award
Two years later, Daria was honoured by the European Fair Play Movement (EFPM). Meanwhile, the global citizen starred for her adopted country, the Netherlands, where she studied at Vrije University in Amsterdam. The then 30-year-old luger received the EFPM "Spirit of Fair Play" award, which honours athletes who make a unique gesture in the world of sport. At an Olympic qualifying competition in Calgary (CAN), Daria Obratov lent her sled to Shiva Keshavan and thus enabled the Indian athlete whose sled had broken down at short notice to take part in the Nations Cup and qualify for the Olympic Games.
Daria says today: "In the end, my friend Shiva and I both qualified for the Olympics. Thanks to sport, you get to know so many different places and cultures and learn many languages. I believe that there should be no borders or differences between people and nations. Sport is a great chance to inspire young people and show that there are so many opportunities, friendships and so much more than just competitions."
Luge with Germany and Russia
While Dania initially trained with the FIL team and competed in the Junior World Cup, Daria was on the road with the German team right at the beginning of her luge career as part of a FIL partnership program. "The German coaching team is one of the best trained in the world of luge and I learned a lot from them. They taught me a lot about driving and how to feel for each track and I enjoyed my time on the track with them because they always gave great corrections," says the 32-year-old looking back on her first years in the sport. From the 2019/2020 season, both sisters then moved to the Russian team as part of the FIL program for smaller nations. Daria tells: "The things I learned from their coaches were completely new to me and totally different from what I knew about sledding and luge before. I would say that these two big and successful teams have a very different philosophy when it comes to sled building, sled preparation and even the way to control the sled." Her sister Dania says: "I learned to speak Russian to adapt to the team and communicate better. We changed all the equipment and started sliding on Russian sleds. It was a very big change, you have to change your riding style completely. Overall, we gained a lot of experience and learned a lot."
Looking back, Daria is happy and grateful for the support of the big teams: "When you come from a small nation that doesn't have its own coaches, well-educated international coaches can help you learn a lot about the sport. I feel that all the advice I have received from both teams has always been very valuable to me."
Aiming for Milan-Cortina 2026 - 25-year-old Dania keeps going
Dania Obratov still has the big goal to compete for the Netherlands at the Winter Olympics: "I have a lot of support from the Dutch federation (BSBN) and together with them I am working on a new plan for the coming season. I will have a new coaching team and I'm looking forward to being able to train more, as I still feel I haven't had the chance to do my best. It will definitely be different and emotional for me because it will be the first luge season where I am all alone without my sister. Everyone who knows us in luge knows that we did everything together. I will definitely miss her a lot, but I am very proud of her and her new chapter!"
A new chapter in Daria's life
Daria Obratov's new chapter will be her PhD thesis in the field of researching the effects of sport on female athletes. Daria is moving to Norway. "I am continuing to work on my Doctor's degree on NTNU university in Trondheim, Norway, which is specialized in medical researches in sport. My main focus is researching the effects of sports on female athletes. Any topic regarding female body is sadly still a tabu and not researched enough. I already wrote a research paper on effects of follicular versus luteal phase based strength training where I got some fascinating results that proved that if we adjust the trainings based on current hormone levels of each female athlete we can drastically increase their performance. I hope my researches help create better training programs for future generations of women in sports”.
In addition to her PhD, Daria wants to continue researching sport and helping future generations of female athletes. "I am happy that luge is one of the sports that promotes gender equality and I hope that in the future my research can help to develop training programs that are more tailored to women and that we have more women lugers making history with their results”.
Dutch junior team in the making
There is also another big goal for the two sisters. They want to help build up a Dutch junior luge team. Dania says: "Hopefully one day we will have a Dutch team competing in the FIL Relay. I want to be proud that I contributed to building this team!"
Together with the Dutch federation (BSBN), the two sisters are working on creating a Dutch luge youth program and finding new talents. Daria is convinced: "I have learned a lot from the best luge coaches during my sporting career and I hope that I can pass on this knowledge to the younger generations of Dutch lugers and help them to develop and love this sport as much as I do. So I hope to see my FIL family again soon, but this time on a different side of the track!"
Dania is looking forward to the World Championships in Oberhof
25-year-old Dania Obratov still has her sights set on the big goal of the Olympics and is looking forward to the 51st FIL World Championships 2023 in Oberhof: "My goal is of course to qualify for the Olympic Games, but I like to take it one step at a time. In the coming season, I am especially looking forward to the FIL World Championships in Oberhof at the end of January. Not only because it's my favourite track but also because it's always so much fun to race there, hopefully surrounded by lots of spectators again this year."