by Darko Pešić

He passed away in March, at the age of 53, from a heart attack. My father's name was Veliša. 

He came from an honest, hard-working family, and grew up with a talent for sports. Those were hard times in Montenegro and, because he always had to work on the family farm, my father never truly had the chance to fulfil his talent. 

He was an electrician by trade, and through his example he showed me and my siblings the true meaning of hard work.

When I was a kid, he inspired us with stories of school competitions. He'd been very successful, but was always very modest about his achievements. 

Parents in Montenegro love to brag about their children's success, whether it's in sport or academics, but my father never did that. It seemed his colleagues were always prouder of my achievements than he was, but when I started having success he didn't have to say anything.

That was just his way. 

As a kid, he used to build up my confidence, telling me I would one day reach the top. But as I grew into an adult, he stopped doing that. He wanted me to forge my own path. 

I always knew how much he cared, and how proud he'd be if I could one day make the Olympics. That goal is what fuels me today. 

Darko Pesic ()

In Montenegro, athletics looks a little different to the rest of the world.

Here, very few people know about the sport. We don’t have athletics stadiums or equipment to train with. Where I live, there is only a sand track, no throwing areas, no landing pads.

Growing up, I had to be innovative. I started as a thrower and from the age of nine, we used cannonballs to practise our shot putting.

In the mountains in Montenegro, you can still find lots of scraps from old army tanks. It’s likely this is where athletes from a previous generation collected parts to train with.

We had no idea how heavy those cannonballs were, we were just throwing them, but they were at least 8kg. It was crazy.

Darko Pesic ()

We did the same for other events. We had to make do with one old, broken, Russian javelin to use between us. My coach took the pointy part of it and attached a broomstick so it resembled something that could be used in competition.

The problem was it weighed 1.5kg, when it was supposed to be 600g. These days, a lot of us have elbow injuries and we suspect that was where it came from. But we made the most of what we had.

My brother, my twin sister and I always wanted to build our own Olympic stadium so we’d search for spots where we could practise different disciplines. When we used to practise long jump and triple jump, there was no sand pit so it would hurt when landing.

When I was 14, we trained for the high jump in our basement. The bar was made up of a metal curtain rail and we had an old mattress to land on if we cleared it. Our backs would ache if we mis-timed a jump. It was painful, but a lot of fun.

The room we trained in was roughly 15 metres in length so there was maybe 12 metres to use as a run-up. This became a challenge when I first started competing because I had no idea where to start my approach.

At the Balkan Youth Championships in 2008, I started from out in lane eight and it felt so unnatural that I nearly failed on the lower heights, but after that I settled into the competition and found a rhythm.

I was amazed how different it felt throwing a shot put compared to a cannonball. We had only ever used a very old shot put in competitions in Montenegro and throwing a proper shot was like staying in a five-star hotel for the first time. It made throwing a cannonball feel like sleeping on a park bench.

When it came to the decathlon, there were some events I did not even attempt until I left high school. I moved to Serbia to study physical and sport education and began training with my coach, Goran Obradović.

I did not even see a pole vault competition until I got there. I was really excited to give it a go so I picked up a 4.20m pole and grabbed it right at the end, hoping to get as high as possible.

I managed to clear 1.80m. The same day, I cleared two metres in the high jump.

I was an awful pole vaulter, a long way behind my competitors, but I stuck at it and these days my personal best is 4.70m.

Darko Pesic ()

When I was in Montenegro, I did not have any proper coaching. I watched YouTube videos to learn the mechanics of different events and my technique was therefore flawed, leading to lots of injuries.

The toll on my body has been huge. I had to take 10 months off for rehab in 2017 because of stress fractures. If I went to a doctor now, they’d tell me I need surgery on my knees because they hurt every day.

But as a decathlete that's normal. You just have to deal with it.  

I'm determined to keep pushing. This is the first year I’ve listened to my body rather than try to train through injuries and I'm sure this will make a huge difference. I believe I can surpass 8000 points (my personal best is 7850) and hopefully rank high enough to make the Olympics.

The qualifying standard is 8350 which is quite far away, but if you have a good day in the decathlon you can get several personal bests, so you never know.

Darko Pesic ()

I know if I make the Olympics, it's an achievement that would make my father break his tradition and finally say: "Congratulations".

He is not physically with us to do that, but I still experience the same feelings from him as if he were alive.

He was the best father anyone could wish to have, one who was always there for me in his own, unique way. No matter what happens next year, whether my destiny is to make it to Tokyo or not, I know he will be proud.

Because I'm working hard, like he did, giving it my very best.