Jiri Prskavec arrived in Singapore for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games as a fresh-faced 17-year-old, with a crew cut, a beaming smile and big shoes to fill. The Czech slalom canoeist already had the Olympic Games in his blood, with his father – also named Jiri – having competed in both Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000; and much was expected of the latest Prskavec to paddle onto the Olympic stage.
Having posted the fourth fastest run in the time trial, Prskavec faced future world and Olympic canoe sprint champion Tom Liebscher in the first head-to-head elimination round, beating the German by more than 10 seconds.
He was even more impressive in the following round, defeating Cuba’s Renier Mora Jimenez by over 20 seconds to secure his place in the quarter-finals, where he saw off the challenge of Ukrainian Vasyl Zelnychenko to proceed to the last four.
In the semi-finals, he was drawn against Slovenia’s Simon Brus, who had set the fastest run in the time trial, and who had looked consistently fast throughout the competition. Despite setting his fastest run of the YOG – 1:27.42 – Prskavec was beaten by Brus’s blistering 1:25.15 run, moving him into the bronze medal race against France’s Guillaume Bernis.
A quick start gave Prskavec a slight edge as the duo raced over the 120m course, with the Czech eventually taking the bronze by less than a second. After a tight tussle, Prskavec’s joy at winning a medal was clear for all to see by his grin from ear to ear.
There may be more stubble on his chin and the hair style has changed, but Prskavec’s beaming smile remains the same, as he has gone on to become one of the biggest stars in canoe slalom.
Just one year after his YOG medal-winning performance he claimed the K1 bronze at the European Championships in La Seu d’Urgell, Spain; and in 2012 he secured his first major international title by becoming world U23 champion. While he failed to defend that crown the following year, finishing second, he did win his first senior gold medals in 2013, securing the K1 individual and team titles at the European Championships, as well as K1 silver at the World Championships in Prague, behind only fellow countryman Vavrinec Hradilek.
A further K1 European title then followed in 2014 before he starred at the 2015 World Championships in London, winning both the individual and team K1 titles.
He arrived at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 as one of the medal favourites, and subsequently delivered bronze, with a two-second penalty in the final denying him the gold medal. Despite missing out on the top spot, Prskavec’s wide grin was once again visible as he stepped onto the podium to collect his medal.