“Into the unknown”: Over 100 Czechs competing at Tokyo Olympics

Over 100 Czech sportsmen and women are in Tokyo to represent their nation at the 32nd Olympic Games, which begin on Friday. The biggest show in sport was delayed by a year by Covid – but Czech participants say their focus is on making the most of the event, even without fans.

Some 115 Czech sports people travelled to the Japanese capital for what are still being billed as the 2020 Olympics, though they were delayed for a year by the coronavirus, and will be unlike any Games seen before.

Prior to boarding the plane to Tokyo, Czech Olympic Committee president Jiří Kejval spoke to Czech Radio.

“These Olympics will be completely extraordinary, because we haven’t been in Tokyo for a year and a half. That means we are going into the unknown. Regarding where our team will stay and so on, we’ve been doing everything a little ‘blind’. The degree of uncertainty is enormous.”

Since that interview one of Mr. Kejval’s fears has come true, with members of the Czech party already testing positive for Covid.

Lukáš Krpálek | Photo: Vít Šimánek,  ČTK

Meanwhile the Czech team have gradually moved into a 17-floor high rise block in Tokyo’s Olympic Village.

Among their number is judo star Lukáš Krpálek, who was the country’s only gold medallist at the last Games in Rio five years ago.

Krpálek says the venue is of great significance to practitioners of his sport – and that supporters will be missed.

“For us judoka the fact that the Olympics are taking place in Tokyo, in the country where judo originated, means a huge amount. Everyone says whoever wins a medal here, it will be the most valuable medal of their career… Appearing in front of a packed Japanese crowd is a wonderful thing, and for me not having fans there is a terrible pity.”

Tennis ace Petra Kvitová took one of the Czech Republic’s seven bronze medals in Rio. But the 31-year-old says she isn’t going out to “defend” her success last time.

Petra Kvitová | Photo: Peter Menzel,  Flickr,  CC BY-SA 2.0

“I’m not thinking about it at all. I don’t think you can talk about ‘defence’. Usually we defend a title after a year, but it’s been five years since the last Olympics, which is a lot of years, a lot of days. I already have one medal, so I don’t feel any pressure. I’m looking forward to it. These will probably be my last Olympics, so I want to enjoy them.”

Among those on the Czech team being tipped for a medal in Tokyo are the tennis doubles pairing of Barbora Krejčíková and Kateřina Siniaková.

The great climber Adam Ondra is seen as having a strong chance in the climbing competition, while pundits also greatly fancy Czech kayakers Jiří Prskanec and Josef Dostal to reach the podium.

Meanwhile the country’s basketball team, led by captain Tomáš Satoranský of the Chicago Bulls, have reached the Olympics for the first time since the foundation of the independent Czech Republic.

Tokyo has major significance in Czech Olympic history as it was at the 1964 Games in the Japanese capital that all-time international gymnastics legend Věra Čáslavská earned the first of her seven Olympic gold medals. Čáslavská, then 22 and at her peak, won the overall women’s gymnastics competition as well as taking gold in the balance beam and the vault. She also took a silver medal with Czechoslovakia in the team event.