Great sporting moments in Czech history

Photo taken from Nejvetsi udalost

The posts on this blog come from many inspirations: the food we eat, the countries we travel and, many times, the guests of our Prague food tours. While the itineraries might be similar in many cases, every tour is different… simply because the guests are. On one tour, we may talk about food exclusively, on others, the main topic can be travel, and on many more than you would have thought, sports. Yes, if you ranked the topics we discuss on the tours based on frequency, sports would end up fairly high. And, just like food, they are also a reflection of the society.

Like it or not, sports, to many people, are a part of the national identity. Say “The Miracle on Ice”, and all Americans will know what you are talking about. 1966 might mean more to the English than to anyone else. And sports are a part of the Czech identity, as well. So the next time you are sitting in a pub in Prague, drinking beers with locals, sports might come up in the conversation. To help you navigate the sports landscapes of the Czech Republic, and to impress the locals with your knowledge, we bring you a short overview of famous sports events from the very short sporting history of the Czech Republic. plus three older Czechoslovak bonuses. You might learn something, and - heck - make new friends and even score some free shots in the pub with these!

Czech Ice-Hockey Team, 1998 Olympics, Nagano, Japan

The Americans may have Miracle on Ice. The Czech have the ice-hockey tournament at the 1998 Olympics, a.k.a. the “Tournament of the Century”. For the first time ever, the 1998 ice-hockey Olympic tournament in Nagano, Japan, could be attended by the professional payers from the NHL, meaning that truly the best of the best could compete for the medals. And the Czechs, having tanked in Canada Cup a year before, surprisingly won, beating the US, Canada and Russia (the three best teams in the world) in the quarters, semis and the final, respectively.

Everybody Czech alive on that day probably knows where he or she was during the Canada - Czech Republic shoot-outs that decided the semifinals (arguably the best game of hockey ever played) in the Czechs’ favor, and after we won the final. The whole country stopped for a day, with even the Prague stock exchange suspending trading for the day. Jaromir Jagr, the superstar, and Dominik Hasek, the goalie, became heroes. To top it off, the drunken arrival of the players and one of the most incomprehensible press events in the history of sports that ensued sealed the deal as a thing of legends.

Czech Football Team, 1996 Euro Championships, England

“Football’s coming home” was the theme of the 1996 Euro tournament held in England. The Czechs, a nation only three years old at that time, were not the favorites, and nearly went home after the group stage, only barely getting through at the expense of the Italians. However, after the win over Portugal (decided by the “devil’s loop”, as the Portuguese nicknamed the fantastic goal by Poborsky, a rising star at the tournament) in the quarters, and the win in penalty-shootouts over France in the semis, the Czechs got to the finals, which proved Gary Linneker’s famous sentence that “football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” They did in the finals, too.

Still, it was a heroic effort by the Czechs who, let’s be honest here, did not play football that would make you just in your seat with excitement. Many stars were born in the tournament, including the likes of Poborsky and - most importantly - Pavel Nedved, who won the Ballon d’or for the world’s best football player in 2003 and became one of the key figures of the Czech Republic - Netherlands game at the 2004 Euros, one of the best Euro games ever played. 

Katerina Neumanova, 2006 Winter Olympics, Turin, Italy

Neumanova was already a living legend entering the 2006 Turin Olympics, having first competed in the 1992 Albertville Olympics already and having won medals in both World Championships and Olympics. But she had never won the gold Olympic medal. The Turin olympics were her last, and the 30k was her last Olympic race. The day was not good: it was warm and the snow was wet, which was not good news for the heavier build that Neumanova was. When she passed the bend into the final 100m, she was third, and she was never a great sprinted. Still, on that day, she put everything into it and finally won gold despite the odds. What turned this into a Kodak moment was her nearly three-year-old daughter who ran onto the track as her mother was laying on the ground, exhausted, to hug her. Yay!

Jarmila Spotakova, 2008 Olympics, Beijing, China 

Javelin throw was always a strong discipline for the Czechs, especially for Jan Zelezny, who won the Olympics three times in a row. Jarmila Spotakova’s Olympic final was going well, with her firmly in the second place before the last round of throws. But she was not happy: the Russian competitor, Maria Abatova, was first with a monster throw over 70 meters, after which it began to rain and the track was wet. But then Spotakova took the javelin and this happened:

Yes, she won, setting the European record. Abatova’s last throw was not long enough. What made this very symbolic was the fact that the finals were held on 21 August, the 42nd anniversary of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia. Spotakova was very well aware of the fact and gave her last throw everything she had.

And now for two Czechoslovak bonuses...

Panenka’s kick, 1976 Euro championchips, Beograd, Yugoslavia

Only a few players can boast that they have invented a kick that still bears their name. Antonin Panenka, the superstar player of the Bohemians Prague club, can. It all happened in the finals of the 1976 Euro champs in Beograd where the Czechoslovaks were playing West Germany. The game ended in penalty shootouts (you can sense a theme going on here) and was tied when Panenka, the last man to shoot, picked the ball. What he did with it became history. Instead of taking a fast shot, Panenka waited for the goalie’s dive to the side and just gently kicked the ball to the middle, thus inventing the “Panenka kick”. Fun fact: when Panenka told the Czech goalie about his potential plan a day before, Viktor, one of the best goalies at the time, responded that Panenka was crazy and should never do it.

Emil Zatopek, 1952 Olympics, Helsinki, Finland 

Guess how many people in history ran the marathon for the first time ever in an Olympic race… and won? How many people won the 5k, 10k and marathon at the same Olympic games? Just one. Emil Zatopek, arguably the best runner of all time. His brutal training methods and the face he made during racing (looking like his heart was about to explode) were famous. What made him a legend was his performance at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. After winning the 10k race and the 5k race after a super-fast last round in which he overtook three runners before him, he decided to enter the marathon race - his first ever - at the last minute. He won, setting the Olympic record.