Petr Koukal: a symbol of survival at the London Olympics

Petr Koukal, photo: CTK

Czech badminton player Petr Koukal will carry his country’s flag at Friday’s Olympic Games opening ceremony in London, just a year after winning his battle against testicular cancer. The Czech Badminton Federation described the choice as “a big step for Czech badminton and a huge leap for Peter Koukal”. Shortly before departing for London with the team of Czech athletes Koukal shared his feelings with journalists.

Petr Koukal,  photo: CTK
Petr Koukal was in top form as he faced journalists at Prague’s Ruzyně Airport this week. More so than for any other member of the Czech Olympics team heading for London this was a hard-won, personal victory for the lanky 26-year-old badminton player.

“This is a huge honour for me. It is different from winning a badminton tournament because here I am representing my country at the Olympics. Two years ago I would not have believed this possible, although the London Olympics were an enormous motivation for me to return to badminton. And now I am leading the Czech team of athletes into sports battle so to speak. I hope I will lead them to success.”

Photo: CTK
For Petr Koukal the most important battle has already been won. In 2010 he saw his world fall apart as his doctor informed him he had testicular cancer. Coming just three days after he had reached the semi-finals of the Bitburger Open in Germany –his best showing at an international sporting event – the news dashed his professional hopes and radically shifted his priorities. Less than 24 hours after hearing the news he had emergency surgery to save his life and then underwent a daunting nine weeks of chemotherapy. As soon as he could he resumed training and a year after being diagnosed with cancer he was ready to return to the world of professional sports. In February 2011 he battled his way to a fifth national title at home and to the surprise of many qualified for the London Olympics. He says his dream is to reach the quarterfinals of the Olympic tournament. But the yellow Livestrong bracelet on his wrist – the wristbands introduced by the Lance Armstrong Foundation as a symbol of the global fight against cancer –will help him keep a possible defeat in the right perspective. He himself has become a symbol of survival and says he is grateful for the publicity that the choice of flag-bearer generated.

“All this has generated a huge amount of media publicity which will not just benefit Czech badminton but more importantly it has highlighted my own story and will hopefully help others in the fight against cancer. Cancer is still stigmatized and feared and I hope that talking about it openly will help people address their health problems in time.”

Petr Koukal,  photo: Czech Television
Petr Koukal himself says his future is an open book. If his health does not allow him to pursue a sporting career he has other options –coaching or becoming a cancer survivor spokesman. His participation in the London Olympics is a dream come true no matter how he performs and he says that he will most likely get a permanent reminder of the event in the form of a tattoo –similarly as he had the Olympic symbol tattooed on his arm after the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics.