This year, one of the awarded was, somehow surprisingly, Jaromír Jágr, an internationally renowned hockey player, the most famous Czech hockey player and one of the most famous Czech sportsmen. Tonight, he received the Medal of Merit from the hands of President Václav Klaus.
But Jágr was not the only surprising and also rather controversial awardee. Klaus also awarded Milan Knížák, the head of the Czech National Gallery.
Last year, Czech pop star Karel Gott received the Medal of Merit.
Jágr, 38, is a member of the so-called Triple Gold Club, which means he has won the three most prestigious trophies in the hockey world – the US Stanley Cup, a World Cup gold medal and an Olympic Games gold medal.
Jágr was born in Kladno, a city near Prague, in 1972. In his junior years, the extremely talented forward played for the local club. In 1990, he was drafted by the NHL team Pittsburgh Penguins. In 1991 and 1992, his club won the Stanley Cup, with Jágr’s skills being one of the most important contributions. Jágr also won many personal awards. The club management was so impressed that the club eventually drafted many other Czech players.
However, the “Penguins” were hit by financial problems in 2001 and could no longer afford the famous player who was eventually traded to the Washington Capitals and, after three disappointing seasons, to the New York Rangers. In New York he apparently regained his previous drive, overcoming some historical records, however his team never made it further than to the second round of play-off.
During the NHL lockout, he played for Kladno again, and also for Avantgard Omsk, an ice hockey team in Russia.
In 2008, Jágr left the NHL and started to play for Avangard Omsk, where he is still active.
Jágr also played for the Czech national team in numerous World Championships and Winter Olympic tournaments, and he helped the team to win the Olympic ice hockey tournament in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, and two World Championships – in Vienna, Austria (2005) and Cologne, Germany (2010).
He says he would like to finish his hockey career in his native town, Kladno, perhaps by winning the Czech hockey league, which is the trophy he has never won.
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