Every Winter Olympics has its defining, overarching moments of success and victory, moments which we look back on years later, remembering where we were when they happened. In 1998, it was the Czechs winning gold in hockey in Nagano; four years later it was Aleš Valenta sealing victory with his acrobatic jump in Salt Lake City, and in 2006 it was Kateřina Neumannová in Turin winning gold in the 30 km.
It depends on who you talk to: for some it was the thrilling five-medal triumph in the biathlon, an area where Czechs had never had similar success. For others, it was Martina Sablíková defending her speed-skating gold in the 5,000 metres. For me and perhaps for the majority, the defining moment was our first ever medal in snowboardcross. A fresh personality, 20-year old Eva Samková, with a tri-coloured moustache painted on her face for good luck, dominated all stages including the final.
My five-year-old son watched with me, noting she had a camera attached to her helmet showing only white snow and no competitors in front of her. Not that it was all smooth sailing: we saw how difficult it can be. American legend Lindsey Jacobellis who crash in the last metres of her own semi-finals, seeing her chance at gold evaporate. But Samková was 99 percent flawless, although she later admitted one moment was touch-and-go:
“The mini-section in the semi-final, the biggest jump was tricky, fighting with the course. But in the end things went well and the final was better than anything!”
Samková’s race was televised in the Czech Republic in the morning and for us it was only by chance that we saw her performance. But the experience was fantastic, truly nail-biting. It has been a long time since there has been reason to cheer in front of a TV or actually hold thumbs (the Czech equivalent of keeping fingers crossed). When she won in the final, my little boy jumped up and down on the couch.
As a result this week, I took him along to a press event so he could see a champion in person. He even drew her a picture, complete with that camera on her helmet, if no moustache. The event itself was a media frenzy. Her life, one can’t help but think, won’t return to normal for a very long time. It must be sinking in how many people she affected who cheered her on. Now my son, who really likes sports, wants to learn snowboarding as a result - not skiing.
Ten, 20 years from now we'll still remember her win, and hopefully many to follow. Just like that hockey team in '98 and others who gave it their all – and succeeded.
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