Women at the heart of the game: Katarina Bulatovic’s pride
‘Women at the Heart of the Game’ is a weekly series in the build-up to the Women’s EHF EURO 2022 and features former stars who have transitioned into a new role. In today’s first episode: Katarina Bulatovic.
The Women’s EHF EURO 2022 is only 50 days away on Thursday (15 September). Europe’s best will play with heart for the trophy at the 15th European Championship, taking place in Slovenia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro on 4-20 November.
So, it is time to meet the Women’s EHF EURO 2022 ambassadors. In this new ‘Women at the Heart of the Game’ series, the focus is on successful handball players who switched from stellar performances on the court to taking up remarkable roles in different sports functions. They are the women at the heart of the game!
Katarina Bulatovic, once a famous Montenegrin left-handed sharpshooter, today a mother with a significant role in the Montenegro Olympic Committee – and a woman to look up to.
Four-time EHF Champions League winner, European champion, Olympic silver medallist, best Montenegrin sportsperson, those are just a few of her accomplishments. No surprise the Montenegro Handball Federation choose her to represent the country and women’s handball.
Bulatovic started her impressive career in her hometown of Kragujevac. From there, her path led her to seven different clubs before her retirement in 2020: Knjaz Milos, Radnicki, Slagelse, Otchim, Rostov-Don, Buducnost, and Györ.
How did she even get into handball?
“When I was little, coaches from a local club came to my school to see which kids would have an interest in playing handball. I was always active, playing games, and I could not stop. I got an invitation to join the training, that is how it all started,” Bulatovic recalls.
“When I was young, I was not at the training regularly but soon my love for handball started to grow. No matter if it was sunny, raining or snowing, I always went to the training, even if I had to walk to get there.”
In 2006, Bulatovic, as a young talent, joined Danish two-time EHF Champions League winners Slagelse, led by Anja Andersen. Right in her first year, she lifted the EHF Champions League trophy alongside Montenegro’s top players Maja Savic and Bojana Popovic.
Three more titles were to follow – two with Buducnost, one with Györ.
“When I won my first EHF Champions League title with Slagelse, I was very young. In a way, I did not realise what an accomplishment that is. It came to me later in life to understand what we had done,” says Bulatovic.
“My biggest memories are from Buducnost. Those two titles will stick with me forever. I remember when we played for the title in 2012, the whole city lived for handball. And they were great support three years later at the EHF FINAL4,” the former right back says.
“I must not forget Györ also. I was privileged enough to have an opportunity to play in such a great ambience, with a strong fan base and love for women’s handball, it is the No. 1 sport.”
I was trying to be a role model throughout my whole career, and I hope that was recognised. I will give my best to promote the competition in the best possible way, to be a great host to everyone coming to Montenegro. Being a host for a such a big event means a lot for our country. We are a nation with great success in handball. I believe the fans will recognise the importance of support from the stands – not only for our national team, but for all teams playing at the tournament.
Montenegro and its capital Podgorica will host group B of the Women’s EHF EURO 2022. The city filled with sports enthusiasts fell in love with women’s handball back in 2012 and Bulatovic was a part of that moment.
“The year 2012 was the highlight of our careers in the national team. Being an Olympian and finishing that journey with a silver medal is hard to explain. And what followed was another big accomplishment,” Bulatovic says.
“We went to the Women’s EHF EURO 2012 without high hopes, without Bojana Popovic and Maja Savic. Not a lot of people were expecting any kind of medal. We just wanted to give our best on the court and enjoy the game. Boosted by self-confidence, we went all the way and returned with the shiniest medal.”
It made Bulatovic, the EHF EURO 2012 top scorer, proud – and she still is.
“Our people showed love for handball, for us, with an amazing reception on the squares and streets. We were all like one. I think we were and still are the fans’ favourites in Podgorica and Montenegro. We have brought so much happiness to the city and the country, in club and national team competitions. Two-time EHF Champions League winners, an Olympic medal, European gold, and many more great matches: I believe people in Montenegro respect that. I am proud I was part of that, and that women’s handball has been in the spotlight.”
In 2020, Bulatovic ended her professional career after 16 seasons in the top-tier competition, four EHF Champions League titles, national team medals, and many individual awards.
“In my last season in Györ, I knew that this was it. My biggest wish at the time was to have a family and that is what helped me with my decision. I could still play at the top level, but I knew my priorities,” Bulatovic said.
“I wished for a chance to hunt for my fifth EHF Champions League title and to go to the Olympic Games before saying a final goodbye. However, things went differently, and Covid-19 stopped the competitions. When the EHF FINAL4 was cancelled, it was like a sign for me: Katarina, you are making a good decision.”
Some retired players struggle to get used to a new life, without everyday training, schedules and matches. But Bulatovic had a clear vision about what she wanted in life, what job she would like to have, and how to enjoy life with her family.
“Your life turns upside down after that decision, but I was ready for life after a professional career. I knew what I want to do in life. My biggest wish came true in May 2022, when I became a mother to a little boy and he became my brightest award, my biggest achievement. Everything I experienced, everything I won – nothing compares to knowing you gave life to someone.”
Bulatovic is a woman with clear goals. She took over as sports director of the Montenegro Olympic Committee, having an important role in the support of athletes. She talks about her job with enthusiasm and joy.
“I have never left the sport. I knew I don’t want to be a coach or so, but I wanted to stay close to handball and to sport, try to pass on my knowledge and help others. That is why I am honoured I got the chance to take over as sports director of the Montenegro Olympic Committee.”
Bulatovic is aware that in her role, she can help all sports in her country.
“The job is exciting, interesting, and full of different situations. Every sport is included, not only handball, and so far, I have received great feedback,” she says.
“My team is amazing, and I believe we can do a lot for our athletes, to be their support. For me, it is a great thing to be a link between athletes and the Olympic Committee, to understand both sides and their needs.”
Bulatovic also has an important role in the upcoming Women’s EHF EURO 2022. As an ambassador, she will help promote the event, while also reliving her best memories from the competition.
Being a host nation to a major championship always has a big impact on the community, and the 15th edition of the European Championship will not be an exception.
“I am proud I was chosen as ambassador of the Women’s EHF EURO 2022. We have so many successful players and to be chosen among them is a special feeling,” Bulatovic says.
“I was trying to be a role model throughout my whole career, and I hope that was recognised. I will give my best to promote the competition in the best possible way, to be a great host to everyone coming to Montenegro.”
Preliminary round group B will welcome hosts Montenegro, Poland, Germany, and Spain to Podgorica. The stands in the Moraca Hall will be full of fans, watching the teams fight for their place in the main round and to get a step closer to the trophy.
Playing an EHF EURO on home court is missing from Bulatovic’s illustrious career, hence she points out the significance of being one of the host nations.
“Being a host for a such a big event means a lot for our country. We are a nation with great success in handball and I believe people are happy to be able to support their team at home,” Bulatovic says.
“The Montenegro national team now have a completely different squad, but I believe the fans will recognise the importance of support from the stands – not only for our national team, but for all teams playing at the tournament.”
The EHF EURO happening in her home county leaves Bulatovic “a little bit jealous.”
“It is a special honour to play in your country, on your home court. It is a privilege, and the Montenegro national team will give their best,” she concludes.
Find out more about the Women’s EHF EURO 2022 and get a chance to win 1x2 day tickets for the opening day in Podgorica on 5 November by joining the Instagram live on the @ehfeuro channel on Thursday 15 September at 20:30 CEST with Katarina Bulatovic and a fellow stellar Montenegrin player, Jovanka Radicevic.