The year in Czech sport - a brief review

30-12-2004

In this review of the year in sport we take a brief look back at how Czech sportsmen and women fared over the last year. We start with the first major event of the year, the World Ice Hockey Championships, which were held in Prague and Ostrava, attracting over half a million spectators.

Many Czechs dreamed of celebrating a victory which would match the legendary Nagano Olympics in 1998, and on home ice to boot. But those dreams were dashed when the hosts were beaten 3:2 by the USA in the quarter-finals. Czech goaltender Tomas Vokoun summed up the disappointment.

"It's tough, it's hard for me to put it in words right now. But, that's life. We can't change what happened now and all of us have to come to terms with it."

In the Extraliga, last season's winners Zlin have just overtaken Sparta to lead the table, and the NHL lockout has been welcomed by Czech fans - they've had a rare chance to see homegrown stars live in the domestic league.

But there was bad news for the Czech hockey world too, with the tragic death of legendary player and coach Ivan Hlinka.

From hockey to football, and the Czech team performed brilliantly at the European Championships in Portugal, with their 3:2 win over Holland perhaps the game of the tournament. Many believed the Czechs could go on to win it, but an extra-time goal in their semi-final against Greece sent Pavel Nedved and co home. The Czech goalkeeper is Petr Cech, now a big success at Chelsea: does he still have nightmares about that Greek goal?

"No, it's been forgotten. Now I think we have to look to the future. Unfortunately for us they scored this goal but one day after it was finished for me and now...in front of me I had a big challenge - Chelsea - so for me it was maybe easier."

Staying with Euro 2004, Czech striker Milan Baros was the tournament's top scorer with five goals. As well as the golden boot, Baros won fans around the world; here in the Czech Republic he became a national idol as the country was gripped by football fever. But was Milan Baros aware of the atmosphere at home during the championships?

"Of course the people lived with us, they supported us and we were happy with that. We knew about the atmosphere here and what the people were doing."

The Czech team has had two very good years. Now you're starting again to try and qualify for the World Cup. Is it hard after the success of reaching the semi-final at Euro 2004 to start again from the beginning?

"We'll see. Hopefully we can go through from this group to the World Cup, because we haven't been there for maybe 16 years. So that's our target and we want to achieve that, so we will do everything for that and hopefully we can do that."

And the Czech team have dropped only three points so far in their quest to reach the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

In the domestic league, Banik Ostrava sent their home city and region into ecstasy by winning the title for the first time in over 20 years. But Banik had a very disappointing start to the current season, and last season's capacity crowds at their Bazaly stadium have become a thing of the past.

Meanwhile, off the field, Czech football has been engulfed by a huge corruption scandal. What many had whispered about for years is now coming out into the open.

Jakub Janda, photo: CTKJakub Janda, photo: CTK In skiing, the top Czech women's cross country skier Katerina Neumannova had a winning start to the year, coming first in a World Cup event at the beginning of January. She has had mixed fortunes this season, and is currently fifth in the World Cup rankings. Ski jumper Jakub Janda is third in the rankings - his performances have improved significantly after a change of coaches this year.

Turning to tennis, Jiri Novak came good towards the end of the season: he won his sixth ATP tournament in Tokyo in October, and three weeks later did it again, taking the biggest prize money of his career with victory in the Swiss Indoors in Basil.

The future of Czech tennis also looked brighter in 2004; Tomas Berdych, just 18, made a big splash by knocking Roger Federer out of the Olympics, while Nicole Vaidisova won two tournaments on the women's tour - not bad for a 15-year old.

After the ice hockey World Championships and Euro 2004, the Olympic Games in Athens were the next sports event to really capture the attention of the Czech nation, with the country bringing home eight medals, including one gold. That was won by Roman Sebrle in the decathlon. Sebrle, who has since been named Czech Athlete of the Year and Sportsman of the Year, describes here the moment he felt gold was within his grasp.

"The best moment for me was when I jumped five metres, because when I jumped it the first time I believed that I'd win."

That was in the pole vault?

"Yeah, in the pole vault."

When you achieved that you knew that was it - all you had to do was finish the event and you were the winner?

"I didn't say that I'd make it, but I thought that I'd make it."

And Roman Sebrle also enjoyed the atmosphere in Athens.

"In the Olympic Games there are many sports and it's very good if you meet in the Olympic village not just decathletes but other sportsmen, not just athletes. That's very nice. And the decathletes especially are a friendly group."

That's it for this look back at the year in Czech sport. Let's hope the country's sportsmen and women give us plenty more successes to report on in 2005.

30-12-2004