Within a minute of climbing out of the water as an Olympic champion Czech slalom paddler Jiri Prskavec was handed the phone to talk to his very excited mother and wife.

He couldn’t hear a word they were saying, but could tell by the yelling and screaming that everyone back in Prague was pretty excited that a gold medal was coming back to the Czech Republic.

As it turns out most of Prague had turned out at the Prague slalom course to watch their hero on the big screen. Even though he was red-hot favourite, everyone remembered Rio five years earlier, when he was also favourite, but had a careless gate touch which dropped him from gold to bronze.

So when he won gold, everyone wanted him to know they had been there with him for the whole run.

“It was my wife and my mum, they were both cheering,” Prskavec said.

“There was a big screen in Prague at my home course in Troja, and pretty much all of the whitewater Czech family was there. They were calling me, and it was really nice to hear their cry. I didn’t really hear any words, but it meant a lot.”

Pint-sized Prskavec carried enormous expectations into Tokyo. The Czech Republic, one of canoeing's world powerhouses, had never won a men's kayak Olympic gold medal. At every opportunity he was being asked the same question.

“It was crazy, the most often asked question was if I’m going to come home with a gold medal, and I kept telling them ‘this is whitewater slalom kayaking, it’s not easy’,” he said.

“I was saying I wanted to have a special run in the finals, and I think I have done that, and the gold medal is a bonus. I think I raced as I would always race, but going into the mental state to do that was way more difficult than normal. Maybe it pushed me to perform just a little better than if it was a world cup.

“In the end it all comes down to the final moments before your run, and you have to clear your head and concentrate on paddling, no matter what the time is. When I was sprinting to the finish and I saw my time I was surprised it was super fast.”

A lot has changed in the life of Jiri Prskavec since Rio. Most importantly he has become a father, twice. It’s made the last month in Tokyo particularly hard, as family have not been allowed to travel.

It gave him extra impetus to perform well.

Check out Jiri's Olympic record

“They are not now going to be thinking that I came here for nothing,” Prskavec said.

“The little one is three months now, and I didn’t see him for the last month, so he is going to be completely different. I hope the older one, he is two years, I hope he recognises me when I come home.”

And now each child will have an Olympic medal to play with, if dad lets them. At just 28, there’s every chance he will add another to the collection in Paris in three years time.

Czech Republic Jiri Prskavec kayak gold Tokyo Olympics

 

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