Karel Malina - ice hockey and opera in the National Theatre


Karel Malina is one of the Czech Republic's most famous sports reporters, with a career spanning over fifty years. His name is associated with almost all the great Czech or Czechoslovak sporting achievements of the second half of the 20th century. Here he remembers back to 1947, when Czechoslovakia was hosting the ice-hockey world championships. The national team was not on form, and they had lost in their group against Sweden. Their only chance of winning was in the unlikely event that the ice-hockey minnows Austria should beat the Swedes in their last game. As Karel Malina now recalls, sometimes miracles really do happen.

Karel Malina
"I remember that our hockey team had lost in their group against the Swedes, and to all intents and purposes their chances of becoming world champions were written off. But on Sunday morning Sweden was playing Austria. The Swedes were hot favourites. All they needed was to win to become world champions. Of course everyone assumed they would win, but something unbelievable happened. The Austrians beat them 2:1 and this opened the path for us, because that evening we were playing our last game against the Americans. What happened in Prague after the Austria-Sweden game - well you just won't believe it. Our reporters, Prochazka, Masonka and Laufer were commenting the game live on the radio to every household. At the end of the game, even the cinemas interrupted their show with the news that we still had a chance of becoming world champions. Immediately the cinemas were empty, as everyone rushed to the ice rink to try to get tickets for the final. In the National Theatre, a performance of the opera Rigoletto was under way, and the opera singer Thein was in the main role. When he heard that the Austrians had beaten Sweden, he sang the next aria something like this: "I have to inform you that the Austrians have beaten the Swedes 2:1 and we can still be champions". Suddenly the whole theatre burst into a huge round of applause. In the evening Czechoslovakia played the United States and we won - we became world champions. But that wasn't the end of it all. The next day the director of the National Theatre, the famous actor Vydra wrote Thein a note, which said: "Dear Thein, I have never encountered anything like your behaviour in all my years at the National Theatre. I fine you 200 crowns". I don't think it bothered Thein at all - he was delighted that he'd brought so much pleasure to so many people."