It’s too early to be talking about history, Amel Tuka says – too early to even entertain the thought of what it would mean to win an Olympic medal. He’s got to make it to the final of the men’s 800 meters first.
“Then we can (talk) about medals and everything,” he said with a smile.
Though Tuka might prefer not to talk about it, he knows what it would mean. He knows that if he’s able to do what he’s done at two of the past three world track and field championships, and finish inside the top three, he would become the first Bosnian athlete to ever win an Olympic medal.
“Six years ago, when I won (the) first medal at world championship for my country, I was so, so happy – so excited. And also people in my country were so happy,” Tuka said. “I would like to repeat that feeling and give the happiness to all people in my country, because they deserve it. It’s very good people there.”
Tuka, the reigning world silver medalist, finished second in his preliminary heat Saturday to qualify for Sunday’s semifinal. The final, should he qualify, is Wednesday.
Tuka is one of seven Bosnian athletes competing in Tokyo and served as one of its two flag-bearers at the opening ceremony last week. He acknowledged that the possibility of becoming his country’s first Olympic medalist brings a little bit of pressure, but he believes pressure is normal.
“Also, when I feel a little pressure, I run better, I feel better,” Tuka said. “So maybe that can be also a little good, because that pressure can help me a little bit.”
Tuka, 30, is its best medal hope. Born about an hour outside Sarajevo, in a town called Zenica, he has become a staple on the competitive circuit in Europe over the past six years, consistently posting times that rank among the world’s elite.
Since his bronze medal at the 2015 world championships in Beijing, he said he’s heard from kids, and their parents, who describe him as an inspiration – the reason they, or their children, started running track. He tries to be a role model.
“I always try to stay normal, especially with my people in the country, because in the past, we had some bad, bad times – hard times,” Tuka said, referencing the Bosnian War that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
“It’s time now to let people enjoy happiness. … I’m happy that I’m one of those athletes that can give happiness to all people in Bosnia.”
Tuka said he’s been nursing a left foot injury for about two months now. He doesn’t consider himself to be in top physical shape, like he was in 2019. But that hasn’t diminished his expectations for the coming days, nor changed the message he wants to deliver to the 3.3 million residents of his country.
“I will give you, for sure, everything to bring home that medal,” Tuka said.