Czech Olympic success measured not only in gold

Barbora Špotáková at the Czech House in London, photo: Czech House in London

On the last day of the Olympics, the Czech team managed to sweeten their already successful run in London with two more gold medals in men’s mountain biking and pentathlon. The Czech Olympians can return home with heads held high, having won four more medals than in Beijing, and one more gold than four years ago. But the successes of the Czech delegation can be measured not only in the number of medals won, but also in the publicity it drew both in London and on the home turf.

Barbora Špotáková at the Czech House in London,  photo: Czech House in London
The global economic downturn was the silent backdrop for this year’s Olympic games. Some economic analysts claim that crisis-hit countries like Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain won fewer medals than in 2008 because of slashed state funding for sports.

Public financial support for sports in the Czech Republic has also suffered in the past years, in large part due to the bankruptcy of the lottery company Sazka, who was required by law to contribute to sports funding. Yet, this year’s Olympic success may prompt a reevaluation of the amounts allocated to the Czech Olympic committee and sports as a whole. Education, Youth and Sport minister Petr Fiala made a cautious promise of more funds as fans celebrated the fourth gold at the Czech House in London on Sunday:

“It’s a fantastic success. We won ten medals, four gold. We won only six in Beijing. I think it undoubtedly shows how well Czech sport is doing right now. The Education Ministry gives almost three billion crowns towards sports. Of course I’m aware of the situation that resulted from the bankruptcy of Sazka and the changes in the lottery law. We’re working hard on finding a solution to this situation. It’s important for the government to support not only high-level sports but a wide range of sporting activities for youngsters as well.”

Vavřinec Hradilek,  photo: Václav Murda,  Czech Olympic Committee
Beside appreciation from their fans, Czech medal winners will also receive financial remuneration for their success. In addition to potential private sponsorship pay, Czech gold medalists received 1.5 million crowns for their accomplishment. Although some countries paid out much greater sums, the Czech Republic was more generous this year toward their sportspeople than for example Germany, Canada or Australia. Czech Silver-medal winner in whitewater slalom Vavřinec Hradilek had this to say about the 750 thousand crowns he is taking home:

“We are not a big sport, and given the kind of expenses that we have, many of which I have to finance myself, this money will come in useful.”

The Czechs also made a name for themselves outside of the sporting events in London – the jokingly stylish wellington boots at the opening ceremony, the giant double-decker doing pushups in Islington and the Czech House itself drew a lot of attention. The Associated Press dubbed the Czech House a “giant party playpen” awarding it the gold medal from among many national hospitality houses that were opened during the Olympics around London. The Czechs managed to escape the usual švejk-inspired image of themselves as a low-key, self-deprecating people, and earned a reputation for being eccentric and even wacky.

David Černý's 'London Booster',  photo: Czech Olympic Committee
But the Czech House in Islington was not only a fun-loving, Pilsner-filled introduction to a lesser known Central European nation, it was also an opportunity for Czech business to show itself to the world. Czech Industry and Trade Ministry launched a programme a year ago that was to help Czech companies present themselves in London during the Olympics.

Of course, most visitors to the Czech House focused more on the entertainment and the culinary offering. According to the organizers, each one of the more than 78 thousand visitors that the house welcomed over the fourteen days had on average one Pilsner beer. Overall, visitors consumed almost five thousand knedliky dumplings with their goulash, which was deemed by international commentators to be just a bit too pricey at seventeen pounds a plate.