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Emir Balić, the legendary jumper from Mostar: The man who jumped from the Old Bridge more than 1,000 times

At the age of five, he already swum across Neretva. He did not even started school, and with his friends he spent days on its shores. He watched the jumpers fly from the magnificent white arch to the emerald beauty and at that moment, they unite. He used to jump from the small caves, and at the age of six, he jumped to his feet from an improvised diving board of the famous cave Duradžik. He recalls when his teacher, unofficial trainer, Adil Đukic raised him high and shouted: “You are created to perform swallow flight”. Since then, a day has not passed without him jumping from Duradžik. He used to jump 30 times in just a day, which was a great training. It was necessary to wait for your turn and jump.

-Then it was very different on the banks of the Neretva River, youth was everywhere, the whiteness of the sandy beaches and the warmth of the water would lure us. Until 1964, we were jumping from the Tito’s bridge, which is about 20 meters high, and the crown of everything was the Old Bridge. When you jump from the Old Bridge, then you are enrolled into a company of brave. At the age of 16, he jumped from the Old Bridge for the first time, and back then, he didn’t know it would tie him up for the rest of his life. When you ask someone in Mostar who is the most famous swallow of Mostar, you will receive the same answer from everyone – Emir Balić.

The first jump will never be forgotten.

Jumpers’ Courage

– I climbed the bridge, looked at the depths of the Neretva and thought for a long time. They whistled off the beach, called out, and I was just walking from side to side of the bridge. I knew I should not give up because I would be mocked. It was not easy to to do that. I gathered courage and jumped to my feet. I thought I would never get out of the water. Every piece of the body hurt me when I came home – Balić recalls the first jump.

In a couple of months, he was brave enough to fly off the bridge. He recalls how fascinating this flight was and how great it was, but he was hurt again, the blow was heavy. But the jumps continued. For a good flight, beside the figure he had, then talent he did not lack, it was important to train hard.

-I used to fly off the bridge for four times per day, those were great trainings. Ten jumpers exchanged. Mostar’s famous swallow flight is specific because it has one chivalry, shows the courage of the jumper, and how the jumper feels at that moment, only he knows – Emir says.

Mostarian swallow flight is continuous, one leaps from the bridge half a meter, and then it is no longer a jump, but a flight, and the hardest part is hitting the water. The place where the jump ends 4.5 meters deep, so the person jumping on the head does not go deeper than one meter into the water if he jumps from the middle of the bridge. He claims he was using his hand and shoulders to break the water, never chest. Balić used to say that he had many fears when jumping into the water, but that he was more afraid of the failure than the injuries. His wife, Đenana, to whom he has been married for 56 years, has always been a great support and proud to be a wife of the legend.

He participated in official competitions 20 times, and with his famous swallow flight he won 13 times. Four times, he was the second, and three times the third. With his first swallow flight, he took the third place, but he said goodbye dignifiedly as appropriate to the legends of his caliber, as a champion.

-That was a serious manifestation that the whole world knew about. There were jumpers from all the republics. He was competing against his brothers Zovko, Dragan and Marko. At the time, when journalists asked me, I said i will not stop jumping, but I won what I wanted, which is why I am saying goodbye to competitions – says Balić, who today sees himself in Lorens Listo, Mostarian swallow of new generation, who is on the verge of beating his record.

He jumped more than 1,000 times. For thousand times, he embraced Neretva, throwing out her water. In 1996, at the age of 61, he jumped from the demolished Old Bridge during the visit of Alija Izetbegović, President of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Out of respectfor the Old Bridge, he never jumped from the new one.

The rich biography of this excellent jumper is summed up in the book “Sjećanja” (Memories) written for 15 years, which was published in 2004 and is now in the Holocaust Museum in Washington. He also published DVD Emir Balić in documentary films about Mostar and jumps. The films that are part of the DVD are Mostar, Admiral, The Boy and the Bridge, The Good Spirit of the Old Bridge. As a stuntman in many films, he replaced the famous actors, lending them his courage, such as Jan Moreau, Jan Cloud Brioni, Hardy Kruger. He entered the encyclopedia of world physical culture, which claims that the first jumps in Mostar started to be organized after the arrival of traveler Evliya Çelebi.

Postage stamp

He highly values the fact that his character ended up on a postage stamp. He even recalled that he was in Denmark at the Queen’s, following the invitation of the World Philatelic Association. He sent the Danish Queen his book and in return received a letter of gratitude, which he especially distinguishes. He also spoke about candidacy for jumping for UNESCO, as a world intangible cultural heritage.

– We have a pile of materials; in particular the promise of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who after my address in which I also spoke of 23 killed jumper in the defense of the bridge, said that after the restoration of the bridge, the IOC will fully fund the manifestation of jumping. The ideas is stopped due to politics, but we have documented all that – Balić said, adding that special attention should be paid to protecting Mostar’s specific jump – swallow flight (Bosnian: Lasta)

When the Old Bridge opened in 2004, he had a desire to jump from it, but his friend Predrag Matvejević talked him out of doing that.

-Predrag called and said: “Emir, do not jump, it’s not the bridge that brought you the glory. You’ve finished your part, and I suggest you, and you suggest this to director Kupusović, to hand over a torch to a young jumper on the Old Bridge. So I handed over the torch to Lorens Listo, and I remember the strong wind blowing and I tried to talk him out of jumping, but he said decisively to me: “I’ll jump even if I stay in Neretva.” By this act, I gave a tradition of jumping from the Old Bridge – says Balić.

There was some mysticism, he adds, as with those old Olympics in Greece when one surrenders flame to another person as a symbol. Today, the Mostar legend spends days surrounded by his medals, as well as numerous plaques and recognitions, due to which he will be remembered.

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