Czechs bring Tokyo gold medal tally up to three after victories in canoe slalom and judo

Jiří Prskavec

Jiří Prskavec won the first ever Czech Olympic gold medal in the kayak/canoe slalom on Friday. Just a few hours later, Lukáš Krpálek solidified his dominance in the heavyweight judo category, bringing the Czech Olympic Team’s gold medal tally up to three. Meanwhile, Czech women have reached the finals in both the singles and doubles tournament, guaranteeing at least two more silver medals.

Jiří Prskavec was one of the biggest hopes of the Czech Olympic team going into Tokyo. He had already won four canoe world championships and seven European championships, but had only managed to win bronze at the canoe slalom so far at the Olympics.

That changed on Friday when the 28-year-old from Mělník dominated the K-1 canoe slalom in Tokyo and went on to win gold.

Prskavec had showed solid performances in the heats rounds on Wednesday, placing third and fourth respectively.

Jiří Prskavec | Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth,  ČTK/AP

Despite picking up a 2 second penalty point for touching one of the slalom gates, Prskavec won the subsequent semi-final round with a time of 94.29 seconds, beating France’s Boris Neveu by 0.57 seconds. American Michal Smolen came in third, trailing Prskavec by almost 2 seconds.

Speaking to Czech Television shortly after the semi-final round, the Czech canoeist said that he had not planned on finishing first.

“I was actually hoping that someone would beat me, because I didn’t want to do my final round as the last man. On the other hand it is a bit of a dream of mine to win after starting last.

“I gave the pole a slight touch and was not sure if the penalty had already been added to my time, so I pushed hard before the finish. Had I known I was in a comfortable position, I may have taken my time a little more so as not to start last.”

Jiří Prskavec | Photo: Ondřej Deml,  ČTK

The final round came shortly thereafter. Both Michael Smolen and Boris Neveu looked strong as they started their slalom rounds, but made mistakes which left them without the hope of winning a medal. Instead, it was Slovak Jakub Grigar who set the time to beat with 94.85 seconds.

There was a lot of pressure on Prskavec when he came out paddling from the start line as the last of the contestants. After passing through the first 10 slalom gates, the timer showed that he was just ahead of Jakub Grigar by 0.29 seconds.

But the Czech would go on to extend his lead. Mastering the current through a particularly difficult section between gates 15 and 16, he stormed through the finish line with no penalty points and a final time of 91.63 seconds.

The first to congratulate the victor was his father and coach, Jiří Prskavec Sr., who had himself represented the Czech Republic twice at the Olympics albeit without ever standing on the podium.

His son then spoke to Czech Television.

“I saw the first two slalom runs and then, as I was preparing, I just heard the time that Jakub Grygar achieved which was not bad at all. I think that starting last at the Olympics and pulling it off is the peak of my career so far. It was a huge amount of pressure…

“My mum and wife called me shortly after I passed the finished line which was very touching. I started getting tears in my eyes and I think I may have shed a few on the podium.”

Jiří Prskavec with his father | Photo: Ondřej Deml,  ČTK

Just hours later, the Czech Olympic Team saw another triumph as judoka Lukáš Krpálek beat Georgian Guram Tushishvili in the men's judo finals.

Krpálek had already won gold in the half-heavyweight (-100kg) category at the previous Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. At this year’s Olympics in Tokyo he was competing in the 100kg+ heavyweight class.

The 30-year-old reigning world champion advanced into the judo finals with relative ease, defeating Uzbekistan’s former world champion Bekmurod Oltiboev in the quarterfinals and then the Japanese silver medallist at the previous Olympic Games in Rio, Hisayoshi Harasawa, in the semi-finals.

The biggest challenge came in the final round, where Krpálek was facing Guram Tushishvili from Georgia. The 26-year-old Tushishvili is a former world champion and had never lost a game against Krpálek ahead of the finals.

Lukáš Krpálek,  Guram Tushishvili | Photo: Ondřej Deml,  ČTK

The Czech received two yellow cards before the last minute of the match. Then he started grimacing as he grabbed his own left arm that had been hit hard during the semi-final game. With just 40 seconds of the match left, Krpálek went into attack mode and landed a wazari, pinning the immobilised Georgian to the ground until the time ran out.

With this victory, Lukáš Krpálek has not only won a third gold medal for the Czech Olympic Team in Tokyo, but also solidified his own position as the most successful judoka in Czech history.

The Czech team has won a total of six medals at the Tokyo Olympics thus far. Three of them are gold, two silver and one is bronze.

There are also guaranteed medals to come in the women’s tennis category. Markéta Vondroušová has advanced into the singles finals where she will face Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic. Meanwhile, in the doubles, Kateřina Siniaková and Barbora Krejčíková will face the Swiss duo of Belinda Bencic and Viktorija Golubic.