Jiří Prskavec aims to break Czech drought on Rio’s ‘perfect’ whitewater course

Picture by IOC/Kishimoto/Yo Nagaya

Czech canoe slalom champion Jiří Prskavec has the Olympics in his blood. His father, Jiří Prskavec senior was also a slalom canoeist, who competed at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000. Now 23, the younger Prskavec first experienced the Olympic spirit at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore 2010 at the age of 17. Six years on, he is preparing for his maiden Summer Olympics at Rio 2016, where he hopes to claim a first canoe slalom gold for the Czech Republic since 2000.

To his admirers, the best is still to come from 23-year-old Jiří Prskavec, who has been described as one of the world’s most exciting young canoe slalom paddlers. But Jiří is experienced beyond his years. Ranked fourth in the world, he is preparing for his Olympic debut at Rio 2016, having already been crowned 2015 ICF world champion to add to three European crowns and European and world champion titles at U23 level.

When you compete, you always meet the same people but in the Olympics, you meet people from all other sports and you cheer them on, you go out with them, it’s just so different and I’m really excited. Jiří Prskavec Czech Republic - Jiří Prskavec Czech Republic

Despite going on to establish himself at senior level on the world stage, he still looks back on his experience at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010 as “one of the best times of my life”, and believes it will play a key part in preparing him for his Olympic debut in Rio.

“I have such a good memory of the YOG,” he says. “When you compete, you always meet the same people but in the Olympics, you meet people from all other sports and you cheer them on, you go out with them, it’s just so different and I’m really excited. I hope Rio is going to be the same if not better.”

Rio 2016 will be an opportunity to reunite with other athletes who featured at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games as a generation of Czech stars who also competed in Singapore – including rower Kristyna Fleissnerova and swimmer Barbora Zavadova – now comes of age.

“I think that’s the main reason for the Olympics,” Jiří added. “We help each other to get better and I’m really excited to see all the other athletes from other sports. They don’t really understand the discipline but they still want to cheer me on and that’s the cool thing about it.”

Among the other familiar faces supporting Jiří will be his father and coach, also named Jiří, who with two editions of the Olympic Games under his belt is ideally placed to advise and guide his son.

Jiří senior, himself a World Championship bronze medalist in the K1M canoe slalom, has encouraged his son to take risks and give maximum effort after regretting his own “safe” decisions during his runs at Sydney. “He always says that I should go for my best run and concentrate on myself no matter what competition I race in,” says Jiří of his father. “He went for a good run but he just wanted to go safe and it didn’t work out so that’s good advice for me to go 100 per cent and risk it. It’s a very supportive thing that can help me a lot. “It’s the biggest competition in the world, and of course the pressure is going to be big, but I hope I can handle it and do my best.”

Rio will also give up and coming Olympians chance to mingle with the biggest names in sport, and Jiří has a few in his sights. “I’m looking forward to the Olympic Village in Rio. From what I’ve heard already it’s going to be great,” he enthuses. My big dream is to go for breakfast, pick up some food and sit beside, I don’t know, Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt. That would be nice!”

No stranger to the podium in Brazil after winning the U23 World Championship in Foz de Iguaçu, Jiří has already found support in Rio, where he has been training at the new whitewater stadium. He spent two weeks in the city in May and will return for another training camp at the end of June before the Games begin on 5 August.

“They changed the course a little bit and it’s much faster. I like it. It’s perfect,” he says. “There was still some building going on with the BMX track nearby and there were lots of workers who were taking videos of us training. You can see that they’re really excited about the Olympics. For me, it was very hard to get here because the Czech athletes are all very good and to qualify, I had to beat them all. I just want to enjoy the atmosphere here. The competition is going to be awesome,” he adds. “For our sport, it’s the biggest competition; it’s the only time in four years that we are actually seen all over the world. That’s really nice. I’m looking forward to that.”