In this week's Sports News: From five medals to ten; Hejnová secures bronze in the Women’s hurdles; canoe sprinting quartet secure Czech Republic another bronze; Barbora Špotáková wins javelin gold medal; Svoboda brings the Czech team a third gold and a final gold medal on the final Olympic day.
This time last week, the Czech Republic’s 133 competing athletes had managed to accrue five medals at the London Olympics: Vavřinec Hradilek won a silver in canoeing, Ondřej Synek a silver in rowing, Adéla Sýkorová a bronze for the 50m rifle, Miroslava Knapková a gold for single sculls rowing and Andrea Hlaváčková and Lucie Hradecká won a silver in women’s double’s tennis. Two days passed following Hlaváčková’s and Hradecká’s win and for a while, it began to look like those five medals may be it. But then late in the week, Team Czech Republic managed a second extraordinary medal-winning run.
On Wednesday, 25-year-old Liberec born athlete Zuzana Hejnová won bronze in the women’s 400m hurdles. The 2011 European Team Championship winner came in with a time of 53.38 seconds, pipped at the post by American silver medal winner Lashinda Demus, who came in with a time of 52.77 and the Russian gold medal winner Natalya Antyukh, who came in with a time of 52.70. Demus and Hejnová flipped positions from the semi-finals, in which the Czech had come in second. This is Hejnová’s first medal in a major tournament and the first Czech Olympic athletics sprint medal in 32 years. The athlete accepted her medal wearing the eternally eyebrow-raising Wellington boots that form part of the British-weather-resistant Czech Team’s 2012 uniforms.
A day later, on Thursday, came another bronze, this time for the men’s K-4 1000m canoeing team of Josef Dostál, Daniel Havel, Jan Štěrba and Lukáš Trefil. The quartet came in with a time of 2:55.850, just a hair’s breadth behind the gold and silver medal winners, Australia and Hungary, respectively. Indeed, the difference between the gold and bronze winners was a mere 0.765 seconds. The Czech team had a poor start to the final race, but managed to make up for it with a powerful finish; this was the first Olympic medal for the Czech Republic in the canoe sprint for 16 years – the last being a gold for the country’s best-known canoer Martin Doktor at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
And Thursday proved to be a particularly auspicious day for the Czech team in London as 31-year-old Jablonec nad Nisou-born athlete Barbora Špotáková won gold in the women’s javelin throw. The world record-holding athlete dominated the competition; her longest out of four throws reached 69.55 metres. All of Špotáková’s throws were further than any single attempt by any of the other twelve finalists. Špotáková won her first gold four years ago in Beijing. and becomes just the third competitor in Czech Olympic history to defend a title at the Summer Olympics, a feat previously achieved by mid 20th century long-distance running legend Emil Zátopek and ‘92, ‘96 and 2000 gold medal javelin thrower Jan Železný, who is now Špotáková’s coach. This latest win makes the javelin the most successful Czech Olympic sport in history. Czechoslovakia won its first gold in women’s javelin in 1952.
Here is Špotáková describing her final and best throw of the finals:
“I decided to take a risk and use a different javelin. It was one that I had never thrown with before and I think that this helped me a little as I immediately felt more comfortable holding the javelin and aligning it with my eye and those are really the basics to getting a throw right. For some reason, I just didn’t feel entirely happy with the ones I had been using so I began to experiment and it ended up turning out well.”
And we have more gold medals to report: the first is in the Men’s Modern Pentathlon. While Olympic women’s pentathlon hopeful Natálie Dianová only managed a 19th place finish on Sunday, the men’s gold medal was won a day earlier by 27-year-old Prague-born athlete David Svoboda. Svoboda already has a full shelf of medals, having won gold at the 2009 World Pentathlon Championships and also at the 2010 European Pentathlon Championships; he has also won two bronze medals and four silvers at the World Championships, the first being in 2005. The Modern pentathlon consists of pistol shooting, épée fencing, 200 metres freestyle swimming, show jumping, and a 1.5km cross-country run. Svoboda came in first in fencing, seventh in swimming, first in riding and also topped the joint running and shooting competition. Overall, Svoboda came in with 5,928 points; the silver medal winner, China’s Zhongrong Cao, came in with 5,904 points – the Czech dramatically overtook his competitor in the final race recovering from a stumble early in the shooting stage.
This is the best win for the Czechs in the sport since winning silver in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. After his win, Svoboda said he was in a state of euphoria and felt like he was floating two metres above the ground. The Czech Republic, which in London has won the most medals since the 1996 Games in Atlanta, and which ended up in 19th place in the final medal count, can surely share in some of those emotions.
Finally, on Sunday, the Czech Republic’s medal count climbed to ten as 27-year-old Jaroslav Kulhavý won gold in the men’s cross country cycling tournament. The event took place in Hadleigh Farm in Essex and covered 4.9km. Kulhavý came in with a winning time of 1hr 29 minutes and 7 seconds – just one second in front of silver medal winner Nino Schurter of Switzerland.
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