Imagine: going to work, getting the goulash on the table, and training for an Olympic sport – Czech women are tough cookies. It might be this inner strength that’s the equalizer when competing against countries with a larger population, more funding and better training facilities. Perhaps it’s the boredom of village life, since nine out of the ten athletes mentioned aren’t even from Prague. Of course, never overlook the obvious; they might just be more talented. Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that Czech women excel at sports. Let’s take a look at some of the contemporary, standout athletes.
Kateřina Emmons (Kůrková) 17.11.1983 Plzeň
Women with guns – husbands everywhere are cringing. What? You were at the hospoda after work, again…yikes! That is, unless your husband is an Olympian rifleman as well. This so happens to be the case for Kateřina Emmons, who won the bronze medal for Women’s Air Rifle in the 2004 Olympics and picked-up sharpshooting husband Matt Emmons in the process. In the 2008 Olympics, she added a gold and silver medal to her collection. Her first competitive sport was actually swimming, but when an illness put the kibosh on that, her champion-shooter father aimed her towards rifle shooting.
Eva Horáková (Němcová) 11.9.1979 Bruntál
Czechs don’t seem much into team sports (except, of course, hockey and football), preferring a nice bike ride or run down the ski slopes. It might come as a surprise, then, to learn that women’s basketball is on the up and up here. In the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women, the Czechs had a dream run, placing second in the title game. As the first Czech woman drafted into the WNBA, Eva made history in 1997 when she joined the Cleveland Rockers, eventually playing for 5 seasons. During her time in the WNBA, she garnered the honor of All-WNBA first team in 1997 and second team in 1998.
Miroslava Knapková 19.9.1980 Brno
Row, row, row your boat gently up the stream…cheesy, but I couldn’t resist. Miroslava Knapková, world champion oarswoman in 2011 in Lake Bled, Slovenia, and winner of the World Cup 2002 and 2009, used to practice athletics. At the age of 19, she stopped swimming against the current and gave into her family’s rowing legacy (both her parents previously represented Czechoslovakia in rowing). In addition to her international accolade, Miroslava is a seven-time winner of the famous Prague competition Pražské primátorky na skifu.
Anna Kulíšková 9.3.1986 Plzeň
Being visually impaired does not stop Anna barreling down a hill at 120 km/h. Her determination and skill is a testament to the mental and physical strength of this inpirational athlete. In the 2006 Winter Paralympics, alongside her sighted guide, Michaela Hubačková, she earned a silver medal in the Super-G for the visually impaired, and in 2010 the bronze. Currently, the Plzeň native can be found at Charles University where she is studying journalism.
Petra Kvitová 8.3.1990 Bílovec
“Eastern” Europe and tennis are definitely enjoying a steamy love affair at the moment. With Victoria Azarenka from Belarus in the number one spot and Maria Sharapova from Russia in at number two, competition is stiff. Petra Kvitová has fought her way into the number three ranking and some predict 2012 will be her year to break into number one. Known for her fast left-handed serve, Kvitová has won 7 WTA titles and was a Grand Slam winner at the tender age of twenty-one. Luckily, the fame hasn’t gone to her head; Czech fans often admire Petra for her down-to-earth attitude, and lack of the usual stardom shenanigans.
Martina Sáblíková 27.5.1987 Nové Město na Moravě
Wouldn’t you all like thighs of steel? I sure would. It’s as easy as going to your local DYI shop, buying a sheet of plastic laminate, and spraying it with anti-dust spray. Next, slide back and forth on it with knit stockings from your grandma. Well, that’s actually part of Olympic-gold-medal speedskater Martina Sáblíková’s training regime. Since there’s no speedskating stadium in the Czech Republic, she had to rely on her coach’s ingenuity and her raw talent. Both have served her well, judging from the Olympic medals and world records piling up. This includes being the first woman to skate 10,000m in under 14 minutes.
Eva Samková 28.4.1993 Vrchlabí
Deceptively nicknamed “The Turkey,” Eva Samková is hip, young and fearless. Coming from mountain country, at the age of two she took up skiing, switching to snowboarding when she was seven. Some of her career highlights to date include double world junior champ in snowboard cross and second place at the World Cup in 2011. Still no Olympic medals, but at eighteen, she’s got plenty of time.
Klára Spilková 15.12.1994 Prague
Golf has always had a fashion unto itself, with its plus four trousers and polo shirts, but Klára Spilková can really claim bragging rights in that department; her brother, Lukáš Spilka, custom designs all of her golf outfits. Not only does she look good, but as the youngest member of the Ladies European Tour, she has proven she can tee off with the best of them. She started golfing at the age of four and turned pro at sixteen. With a team of experts in tote – psychologist, physiotherapist, manager and coach – she competes in the European Tour, while off the green she works on finishing her high school degree.
Barbora Špotáková 30.6.1981 Jablonec nad Nisou
Often spotted savoring an after-training beer at U Pinkasů, where she was awarded special “permanent member status,” nobody would guess she’s the world record holder in the javelin throw. In the 2008 Olympics she bested her previous personal record and brought home the gold, but in the same year, during the IAAF World Athletics final, she topped that with a world record throw of 72.28m. Originally, she was a heptathlete, but during her years at the University of Minnesota, she specialized in the javelin throw.
Šárka Záhrobská 11.2.1985 Benecko
It comes as no surprise that the Czechs are good at winter sports – I swear they ski out the birth canal. Joking aside, we have all seen those little tots on the slopes, fearless and ferocious, while some adults (who shall remain nameless) are shaking in their ski boots at the hill before them. Šárka Záhorbská, who specializes in slalom alpine ski racing, possesses more courage (and ability) than most. With her father as coach, she’s amassed various medals, including gold at the 2007 World Championships and bronze at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Attentive readers might have noticed my spineless tactic of listing the athletes in alphabetical order. I’m not typically a waffler, but this is an exceptional group of women. For instance, Anna Kulišková ranks number one as the most inspiring, but as far as sheer talent goes, Sáblíková and Špotáková both hold world records. So, you be the judge: who do you think deserves the number one spot and why?