Celebrated biathlete Gabriela Koukalová, named sportswoman of the year last December, has thrown something of a proverbial grenade into the sport’s community with a tell-all book just published. Named Jiná or Different the book deals with a number of issues including serious eating disorders the athlete suffered.
“Different” is not a bad title for a book somewhat blowing the lid off of the sport of biathlon in the Czech Republic. Whereas just a few years ago it was all smiles after Sochi, where Koukalová clinched two silver medals and one bronze, it is a different attitude on display now, one where the sportswoman felt it was necessary to discuss many struggles she had faced in her sport. In the book, Koukalová tells-all about the sport, especially her struggle with bulimia, her junior trainer’s attitude, clashes with coaches and fellow biathlon team members.
In one interview earlier this week, said she said she knew her book would provoke a backlash but was nevertheless glad she had written it, if nothing else than to help others who have struggled with similar eating problems.
Here is what she told Radiožurnál interviewer Lucie Výborná this week:
“I didn’t expect the huge number of emails from women, girls and their parents who had met with the same problems. I am not talking about dozens but thousands of emails. The inbox is blocked because there are so many. It’s a fulltime job just to get through them.”
Koukalová’s own eating disorder – both anorexia and bulimia – began when she was still in junior competition. The athlete, in her words went as far as eating makeup removing pads soaked in water or used to use a spoon to help her gag and throw up food she had just eaten.
It was her husband, badminton player Petr Koukal who helped her finally begin tackling the problem when he discovered an x-ray of the spoon she had accidently swallowed.
How she dealt with that problem is one of the main focusses of “Different” and interviews that have followed, and the athlete was not afraid to shy away from other personal moments, including her relationship with her parents who more or less forced her into sport.
“There were moments when I felt I was forced into sport. There were times when I really didn’t like it and didn’t want to train. But it is not like there was any choice. There were races when I ran and hid in the forest and buried my start number bib in the snow. That didn’t seem to indicate that I wanted to race. Of course today I am grateful to them but there were moments when races filled with me with [dread].”
The question is now whether she aims to ever compete in biathlon again. At this point it seems unlikely but in the world of sport most athletes never say “never”. Nor has she burned all bridges. In the future should she want to return, the head of the Czech Biathlon Association Jiří Hamza told Czech Radio that the door remains open.
At the moment, though, it does not appear to be a priority: the athlete has made clear she wants to focus on helping others with eating disorders, not least in the area of sport, where the subject, she says, remains largely taboo.