Prague – Story of Martina Sáblíková, a Czech speedskater who won two golden and one bronze medal at the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, has inspired Czechs to start doing the sport that had been practically unknown before.
„Parents or children themselves are already calling us, and they want to start speedskating. And there are tens of them,” says the chairman of the Czech Speedskating Union, Ondřej Brada, who nonetheless adds that he remains realistic.
„I do not expect that Martina raises the lazy out of their armchairs and thousands start to skate. In addition, she has been in the top form for a long time, how many world championship trophies only she has won?,” says Brada.
Small hockey players to become small speedskaters?
However, Sáblíková can influence children or parents that are about to choose some sport.
The mass speedskating hysteria is unlikely, but what is realistic to expect is that speedskating take away children, above all boys, from hockey.
„Currently, we are a hockey nation. Just look at frozen ponds. In Netherlands kids skate on them, in Austria they, for example, play curling, but here they make a goal from two boots placed on the ice, and they play hockey. Maybe Sáblíková will change this a bit,” says Brada.
Young speedskaters are already in a better position when they book training time in hockey arenas. However, the initiative should come above all from the parents.
Popularizing sport through success
In the Czech (or, to be proper, Czechoslovak) sport history, there have been at least two moments when successful athletes caused great boom of interest in their sports.
„First, Emil Zátopek (a runner who won four golden medals at the Summer Olympic Games in 1948 and 1952) introduced athletics, then in the 1970s Jan Kodeš brought attention to tennis. When Kodeš won Wimbledon in 1973, it was an important step towards the democratization of all the sport (in Communist Czechoslovakia),” says Marek Waic, a sporty history expert from the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport, Charles University in Prague.
However, Sáblíková is going to face a more difficult task than her predecessors if she wants to promote her sport. „There are so many other possibilities now. In the communist era, people were much more prone to be influenced by such events. How many people ride mountain bikes today without knowing who won the Tour de France?” says Waic.