Serbian Lazar Djukic is Betting on Himself
Lazar Djukic put his life on hold and lived prize money to prize money, with faith in his ability to climb up the CrossFit ladder. So far the gamble has paid off as he is set to compete at the 2022 NOBULL CrossFit Games for the second time.
“I believed in myself. In my first few competitions I took first, second or third. So I thought, if I really really try I can be good at this,” the Serbian said.
Most athletes win competitions, get enough prize money and sponsors, then go full time. But Djukic, who had some savings from coaching in Kuwait, decided to go full time then win prize money and get sponsors. He paused his studies, and still has seven exams to sit for his economics degree.
“Back then, I invested everything just to become an athlete, I was just living on prize money. It was a big motivation, I needed to win to pay the bills. There was no other option,” Djukic, 26, said.
“I think that’s why right now I perform best under the most pressure. I think it paid off.”
“From there I tried to qualify for the Games, and I think it was the best decision of my life.”
Djukic is heading to the Games for the second time, but it is in fact the fourth time he has qualified for the Games.
He qualified in 2019 as National Champion of Serbia but showed remarkable self-awareness (it was his third time winning fittest in Serbia). He did not think he was ready and as he was still scraping from one prize money to the next, a trip to the Games did not seem worth it.
“My goal was to show up and compete. And not to show up and just be impressed I’m there,” Djukic said. “I thought I’d be cut in the first or second round, and I didn’t want to spend the money. I just focused on local competitions to try and earn some money in Europe.”
“In 2019, I think I chose well when I chose not to compete,” he said. “I was just playing it smart and betting on the future.”
Djukic then earned National Champion rights in Serbia again in 2020, but did not make the Games. He took 5th in the Dubai CrossFit Championship.
In 2021, the Serbian once again qualified for the Games by coming second in the German Throwdown, taking 9th in his “rookie” outing. This year, he made it again by winning the Lowlands Throwdown.
During the four years since his decision to turn down the Games, Djukic has been steadily improving.
“I learned how to see the whole competition, and I learned every workout is one step. The competition is one workout at a time. If you are starting your competition at 10th or 15th, it doesn’t mean you can’t win. I learned what to eat, what to drink, how I should feel, should I stretch, should I not stretch, should I cool down?”
“It helped my mental side to have that many competitions under my belt,” he said.
“I just became much more relaxed going into competitions. I see some people going angry, or they focus too much. I’m just relaxed and easy until it’s 10, 9, 8, 7 and go time. From then on, I black out, I just do the work until it’s done.”
Djukic finished 9th at last year’s Games. Usually, he enjoys training alone, as it means training and competing are different. But in the build up to the Games, being alone was tough mentally and he picked up an injury.
“I realized I needed a support network”, he said.
Djukic met Facundo Etchecolatz, a renowned crossfit coach, at the Belgian Throwdown, where the Serb had won six of nine events. Since then, Djukic and the coach have stayed in close contact.
With the Games looming, and the lessons from last year, Etchecolatz arranged for Djukic to train at CrossFit Mayhem in Cookeville, Tennessee. The famous gym has three teams and a host of individuals heading to the Games.
With the experience in the bank, and training at one of the world’s best CrossFit gyms, Djukic believes a podium finish is possible. It is a lofty goal, tempered by his trusty self-awareness.
“I think I have the ability to win, but it depends on the workouts. I still have some holes I need to fill. There are still workouts when I’ll take almost last place, which isn’t good. If you want to win, you need to be consistently in the top five or 10,” he said.
“If the workouts are good, maybe I can podium or even win, but I think I really need one more year of heavy lifting to be up there with the big guys.”
Djukic started CrossFit because he saw the coverage of the Games. He saw the likes of Rich Froning winning and he knew that he wanted to compete and emulate their success.
“I didn’t start to be fit or healthy. I wanted to make the Games, to become as fit as possible and compete. For me, it was competition, self-drive. I like winning,” Djukic added.
“That feeling, when you are standing on top, it’s the best feeling. I feel like whenever I do poorly, it fuels me so much more to come back stronger. If I don’t win, that sucks but I’m not a quitter, I’ll come back stronger and win next time.”
(Editor’s Note: The original version of this article contained some factual errors. We regret the mistake and have corrected this version.)