That Bronze medal by the team of Soukalova, Veronika Vitkova, Jaroslav Soukup and Ondřej Moravec ushered in a new era for Czech Biathlon. That evening biathlon fans around the world marveled not only at their success but at the amazing stadium atmosphere created by the enthusiastic Czech fans.
Coming into the competition, the home team was a medal long shot up against the star-studded Norwegian, French and Russian teams. Yet with the crowd roaring from start to finish, the local team overcame the odds, staying close to the leaders until seizing a spot on the podium with Moravec’s anchor leg.
Under huge pressure, Moravec tagged in fourth, “I was really nervous, somehow I felt a bit sick; it happens when the body is ready. It was not such an easy situation, we had the great team for sure, maybe not on paper but we wanted to fight for best places! The crowds in Nove Město are so crazy. That helped us for sure on the tracks, on range it was a bit worse, but I was prepared for this… When my leg started, I felt absolutely perfect.” Still, he had to shoot well in the very loud stadium, to move into medal position. The five prone targets closed quickly with the same result in standing. “Once I did prone, I knew that no one could stop me because I had the right feeling on range.”
Soukalova used one spare in the two stages on her leg, admitting shooting was tough. “I felt at times as if I was dancing on thin ice. I felt a great responsibility, but racing for the first time in the new arena (with the big crowd) was a great experience that taught me a lot.”
While Moravec shot clean, his Russian rival Dmitry Malyshko, one place ahead when they started the anchor leg picked up a penalty in each stage, opening the door for the Czech squad.
Gabi’s Medal Bet
Moravec’s job was to bring the medal home because there was more at stake than just a medal. The team had a side bet with Soukalova if she won a medal. “Before the championship started, we had a little bet going in the team: if I won a medal, I would have to sing for all fans at the stadium. It seemed funny to me, so I took it as a challenge. After one of the races, I really did sing. It was a quite hard experience because I never sang before so many spectators and I didn't know how acoustics work. (Laughing) I hardly heard the melody I sang, which is evident on the recording!”
Coming down the home stretch, Moravec punched the sky with his poles energizing the crowd as he celebrated winning the Bronze medal.
That medal was the first of many for Czechia; World Cup individual, relay and mixed relay podiums followed. In the coming seasons, there would be an Olympic Mixed Relay Silver medal, capped by an IBU Mixed Relay World Championships Gold medal in 2015. Soukalova won IBU WCH Sprint Gold in 2017, the season after taking the World Cup Total Score title. Moravec won Olympic Pursuit Silver and Mass Start Bronze medals in 2014.
Yet for both the 2013 Bronze medal win remains a special moment. Moravec calls it, “The experience of a lifetime, and as important, it helped me for the ones after that, but winning that one at home is very special.”
His teammate Soukalova admitted, “Winning the medal at home was harder than winning abroad. Personally, I take the medals won in Nové Město as the greatest achievements in my career. A few years later I won the Mass Start in the (2016) World Cup (with 25,000 fans cheering wildly), that was an absolute ceiling what I could achieve…I appreciate this result the most of all of my races.”
Over the ensuing years, the Vysočina Arena crowds have become legendary, wildly waving Czech flags, accompanied by cheering that is heard kilometers away. Expect nothing less at this over the next 11 days, but will anything match that magical evening in 2013? Tune in to find out!
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Rene Miko