There are still a few days to go in Sochi but the Czech Republic has already had a Winter Olympics to remember. Indeed, the country’s medals haul on Wednesday rose to eight, two more than the previous Czech record. On the down side, the country’s ice hockey team have taken an early flight home.
After failing to pick up any medals in 1994 in its first Winter Olympics as an independent state, the Czech Republic gradually improved with three at the next three Games, four in Turin in 2006 and a best-ever six in Vancouver in 2010.
Now, with several days remaining in Sochi, the current Czech Winter Olympics team have already become the most successful ever, reaching the podium a record eight times.
Wednesday was marked by gold for defending champion Martina Sáblíková in the women’s speed skating 5,000m. Sáblíková had earlier failed to hold on to her title in the 3,000m, having to “make do” with silver.
However, the shy 26-year-old made no mistake at her favoured distance, finishing comfortably ahead of rival Irena Wuest of the Netherlands, who had bested her in the previous event.
With two golds and a bronze from Vancouver, Sáblíková’s total of five medals makes her the Czech Republic’s most successful ever Olympian, summer or winter.
Including athletes who competed for Czechoslovakia, she ranks third, behind gymnast Věra Čáslavská, with seven gold and four silver, and runner Emil Zátopek, with four gold and one silver.
While Sáblíková has once again become the Czech face of the Winter Olympics, the biggest story from Sochi has to be the country’s unprecedented success in the biathlon.
Indeed before this Winter Olympics the Czechs, or the Czechoslovaks before them, had never taken any medal in biathlon. This time they have already bagged five.
The latest came in the mixed team relay event on Wednesday, when Veronika Vítková, Gabriela Soukalová, Jaroslav Soukup and Ondřej Moravec finished second.
Soukup had previously taken bronze in the sprint, Moravec silver and bronze in the pursuit and mass start, respectively, and Soukalová in the mass start. Hats off to all of them.
However, it wasn’t all good news on Wednesday. An estimated two million Czech viewers watched the country’s ice hockey team succumb toothlessly to the USA in the quarter-finals, losing 5:2.
The oldest team in Sochi had previously failed to impress in the group stage and only reached the last eight via a nervy win over Slovakia. Coach Alois Hadamczik has come in for criticism, while there is speculation that legend Jaromír Jágr may have turned out in Czech colours for the last time.