Katie Bell (USA, diving)
Samantha Cheverton (Canada, swimming)
Roger Espinoza (Honduras, soccer)
Amanda Furrer (USA, rifle)
Born in what was then Yugoslavia, George Markovic (Ðorde Markovic) has had quite a journey. His family left the wartorn Balkans for Australia during his youth, and he ended up starring at Ohio State in college while posting some of the fastest times in school history. He also had a qualifying time for the 2008 Summer Games but was unable to take part because he hadn’t registered with the Serbian federation in time. Having squared that problem away, he’ll be representing Serbia in London.
Hometown: Sydney, Australia
Events: 400-meter freestyle, July 28; 4x100-meter freestyle relay, July 29
How Qualified: Markovic swam a B standard of 3:52.58 at the Australian championships held in March in Adelaide. He later found out that would meet the quota set by the FINA for the London Olympics swimming out of Serbia.
Medal Chances: Markovic’s qualifying time at the Australian meet is the 69th-best swim of 2012. German Paul Biedermann holds the world record of 3:40.07 and will compete, while the top time this year is 3:42.31, set by China’s Yang Sun.
Ohio State Career: Markovic had a decorated career at Ohio State. In 2007 he was named the most promising freshman on the squad, and a year later he was an All-American in the 4x200 freestyle relay. He went on to set numerous school records, including times in the 200 and 500 freestyle and 4x200 relay that still stand. Markovic capped his career in style as a senior captain, helping lead OSU to the Big Ten title in 2010 while capturing the 500 freestyle at the league meet before earning All-America status.
In His Own Words: “I was well under the qualifying time in 2008 in the 400 freestyle. The only problem was that I wasn’t registered with the Serbian swimming federation for over a year, which was a FINA requirement. FINA is the international governing body for swimming. From the day I qualified up until the day before the Serbian team left for the Olympics, I was in the gray. So looking back, that was a really stressful time for me, but also something I learned a lot from.
“This time around when I was in the gray, it was only for about a month or so. Comparatively, it wasn’t that bad. A lot of my teammates were in the same position. They struggled a lot mentally with it, and I did my best to assure them that the only way to not get down, is to focus on the now..
“I knew for sure about a month ago that I would be going to London. FINA released a new ranking system, and for some reason I was registered as swimming for the USA. I’m not sure how. Maybe they remembered me from Ohio State, but as soon as we got that sorted out and we fixed that up, we got the call within 30 minutes. They sent the call out to my swimming federation, then I got a call from the general secretary saying, ‘We got your invite. Keep training the way you have been.’
“After Beijing, I just reset my sights. I was down for about 30 minutes, and then I said, ‘All right, let’s focus on London.’ The selection criteria was a lot more difficult this time around. The qualifying times got faster. I was lucky enough to get through with the B time.
“This time around, since 2009, I’ve been competing for Serbia. I got the citizenship squared away and I’ve been registered with the Serbian swimming federation for 3½ years as opposed to eight months. There wasn’t that difficulty in administration.
“Since leaving Ohio State, a new environment and new challenges arose, and I just kind of stuck to the principles that I discovered and was taught at Ohio State. A lot of it was basically ‘find a way.’ If something doesn’t work, you keep working at it and you find a way. I’m really, really glad that they selected me and I got through because otherwise, I would like to think I would not be the guy with the chip on his shoulder, but I would have probably had moments where I would be like ‘Ahh, I should have been there.’
“I see qualifying as like the crowning moment to finish my swimming career and have it come full circle from when I set my goal in 2000 when the Olympics were in Sydney. That's when I said I wanted to go to the Olympics. It’s something I’ve been working on for 12 years. It means a lot. Looking back, as I always say, the journey is more important than the destination, but I’m glad I’m going because it caps off my swimming career nicely.
“I’ll be done with swimming after London, then I’m going to head into new adventures. I'll take some time to travel and then start a new chapter of my life, for which I feel like I'll be better prepared for, due to my experiences throughout my swimming career.
“The 2000 Olympics were in what I consider my hometown, where I grew up, where I spent the most time, and that’s Sydney. I watched Ian Thorpe and said, ‘I want to go to the Olympics.’ I’m obviously really happy that the whole Serbia thing worked out and I could swim for them. Even though I haven’t spent a lot of time there, I’ve always felt an affinity to the people and I’ve also got a lot of great friends on the national team. Everything kind of fit ideally, and it’s definitely a crowning moment.
“Funnily enough in 2000, we were in a hard training phrase during the Olympics. I think my coach thought it would be the right way to go about it, just like, while everyone’s motivation is up, to kind of flog us. I didn’t get to go to any of the events. I definitely regret that, but I had friends from swimming come over and we’d watch all the swimming. I videotaped it. I probably played the tapes more than 100 times. That was back in the day when they had the big VCR tapes, the old-school ones. That was definitely where the motivation came from, or where the idea of the Olympics actually popped into my head.
“I look at my time at Ohio State as probably the steepest learning curve I’ve had. I went into Ohio State as the freshman who had some things figured out swimming-wise, and I went into college very scared to let go of my ways of thinking toward the sport. I learnt at OSU to have a lot more of a holistic and natural approach to the sport.
"At first I was a bit hesitant to buy into the program but after observing the guys that made the biggest improvements, I decided to buy into the program completely and made the team my family in the U.S. I've still kept in touch with a lot of my teammates from OSU and we make sure to support each other, even if it be via WhatsApp or Facebook. My four years at Ohio State flew by but I feel like the friendships I made and things I learnt will last me a lifetime.
“I left Ohio State in December 2010. I’ve been on the Gold Coast of Australia, and I was there training with a legendary Australian coach. His name is Denis Cotterell. It was definitely a big challenge, and it was a big change from Ohio State. His training methods and his program is great. His character is slightly temperamental, especially after having trained with Bill, who is always well tempered and controlled. This guy is a bit of a Croc Dundee of swim coaching. But I’ve had a great time here and made some great friends. Obviously still the dearest part of my swimming career was those four years I spent at Ohio State.
“I was born in what was then the Yugoslavia. It’s now six different states – Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro. All those countries have separated since the ‘90s. I was actually born in what is now Bosnia. It’s kind of political, and I don’t like to get into it too much because at the end of the day I’m an athlete, not a politician, but because I’m Christian I’m considered Serbian. Bosnia is made up of three ethnicities – Christians who are Serbians, Catholics who are considered Croatians and then Muslims who are considered Bosniaks. I have many great friends from each ethnicity. Since the war Serbia has felt like home in terms of that region. That’s where I’ve spent the most time since we left before Yugoslavia split up.
“Representing Serbia in London will be great. Realistically, my future is going to be in Australia, but I think it’s always really nice for me to keep in touch with where I came from. I’m really looking forward to meeting Novak Djokovic. I’m hoping to sit down and pick his brain a little bit and see what he does differently.
““In London, I’ll try to see some of the tennis, water polo, which Serbia has been traditionally good at, and volleyball. I’m actually looking forward to spending some time with the Ohio State alumni that are going to be there, especially the guys I swam with. I think there'll be seven of us in London during the Games: Samantha Cheverton, Joe Doyle, Marshall Farrell, Justin Farra, Matthias Sigrist, Stefan Sigrist and myself. Hopefully we'll get to take an O-H-I-O photo with Big Ben.
“It’s actually a bit tough to have hobbies because swimming is the kind of sport that even though you only train, say, five or six hours a day, all your decisions are based around that training block. It’s all tempered toward training, but since I’ve been away from Australia, I’ve been doing a lot of walking around, trying to get my legs conditioned for the walk from the Olympic Village to the pool in case the buses get full. Sightseeing and meeting new people has always something I have enjoyed. I don’t judge a city or a place by its architecture or standard of living. I much prefer getting to know the mentality of the people.
“I did buy a few books before I left Australia, but most of my time abroad has been spent on meeting new people and visiting new places. In Belgrade, I was hanging around a lot with friends, going out to lunch and going out to the movies. Serbians like many other Europeans spend a lot of time at the cafés catching up over a coffee. Crepes are really common in Serbia too, but I’m going to leave that for after London.”