High hopes as Czech athletes leave for London

Czech women basketball team, photo: CTK

The Czech Olympic teams are off for London, where their chances are thought to be excellent in more than half a dozen disciplines. Special flights took 66 Czech Athletes to the British capital on Tuesday, and President Václav Klaus and several government ministers are planning to visit over the coming days.

Petra Kvitová,  photo: CTK
Classic double-decker buses will take the first half of Czech medal-seekers from the airport to the Olympic Village Tuesday afternoon, and the next we’ll see of them will be on the field. Expectations are high for the Czechs in several disciplines, with experts speaking of chances for six or even eight medals. The group of 133 athletes is the largest ever to leave Prague for the Olympics and about fifteen of them are being hotly watched, among them World No. 6 tennis champion Petra Kvitová, who is of course no stranger to the courts at Wimbledon where she won her greatest triumph so far in 2011.

“I guess it can’t get any better for me than playing on grass at Wimbledon, it’s a great advantage for me that the tennis events will be held there. I’m going to try to win a medal, that’s the greatest goal, and I believe that either in the singles or in the doubles it will happen.”

Czech women basketball team,  photo: CTK
Petra Kvitová takes to the court on Saturday. Among the others on whom Czech hopes rest is star rifle shooter Kateřina Emmons. Formerly Kateřina Kůrková, she came out of the last Olympics with not only the gold in the 10-metre and the silver in the 50-metre rifle events, but a new husband in fellow shooter, American two-time medallist Matthew Emmons.

Another serious contender is cyclist Jaroslav Kulhavý who won the world cross country championship last year and the European championships the last two years. The javelin could belong to the Czechs this year. Reigning gold medallist from Beijing Barbora Špotáková is back after adding two second place world championships victories to her resume. Her fellow thrower 29-year-old Vítězslav Veselý, who came in first in this year’s European championships, is also considered one to follow.

Veteran Olympians Štěpánka Hilghertová and Roman Šebrle are back for the sixth and fourth times, respectively. Canoer Hilghertová will be seeking her third gold and decathlete Šebrle his third medal. The consistently successful rower Ondřej Synek will also be back for his third Olympic games, having won the silver in Beijing and the world championship in 2010.

Kateřina Emmons,  photo: CTK
As for non-Athletes, Czech President Václav Klaus, a great fan of tennis and basketball in particular, will be attending the final stop of the Olympic flame at Friday’s ceremony. After a reception at Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth other heads of state, Mr Klaus will open the Czech House in the British metropolis and remain in the city until Monday to watch the Czech teams. At least four Czech cabinet members have said they too will be visiting London over the next two weeks. In addition to watching the events, Industry Minister Martin Kuba plans a series of meetings in support of Czech business. Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra will be attending the closing ceremony on August 12.