#YOGJourney: YOG gold medallist Tomas Portyk poised for next step

Czech Republic Nordic combined athlete Tomas Portyk may be only 22 years old, but he is already a mainstay on the FIS World Cup circuit. If recent performances and valuable experience gained are any indication, the two-time Olympian should contest for victories and podiums for many seasons to come.

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Portyk quickly established himself on the international scene by becoming the first-ever Nordic combined champion at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Innsbruck 2012. Lying fifth after the ski jumping phase, the determined Czech made up a 31-second deficit in the 10km cross-country leg to strike gold. He was just 15 years old at the time.

That YOG victory was a harbinger of good things to follow. Portyk won a junior world title in Rasnov (Romania) in 2016 and qualified for both the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018.

In PyeongChang, Portyk attained two top-25 results in the Gundersen normal and large hill events, as well as representing the Czech Republic in the 4x5km relay.

Following those performances in the Republic of Korea, Portyk kicked the 2018/19 World Cup season off in style in Ruka (Finland), as he matched his individual career-best finish with a fourth-place showing. Following jumps of 133.5m and 125.5m, he demonstrated confidence and composure while battling top competitors stride-for-stride on the cross-country track, yet just missed the podium. He also paced the Czechs to a fifth-place finish in the team event, leading the International Ski Federation (FIS) to crown him its Nordic combined “Athlete of the Week”.

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Seven seasons since his YOG success, Portyk now looks destined to continue to threaten his older, more experienced rivals for medals in the coming months and years.

How satisfied were you with the season-opening fourth place in Finland, tying your individual World Cup career best?

“It was a great race for me. I jumped after a long wait due to the wind. The fourth place is a great result for me. No one expected it.”

How would you assess your performances at PyeongChang 2018?

“Unfortunately, my races at the Olympic Games were not that good, but I'm a young competitor and I can learn. I hope to show it at the World Championships in Seefeld (Austria) later this season.”

You won the first YOG Nordic combined gold medal awarded at Innsbruck 2012. How special was that for you at the beginning of your career?

“This race started my international career. It was my first big race outside of the Czech Republic and I'm glad that I managed to win the gold medal. It was a really great moment. Suddenly, people saw me as a great athlete. There were a lot of cameras and questions to answer. A lot of people started following me on social networks. I remember being at the main square and hearing them announce my name. Listening to the Czech national anthem was the best moment for me.”

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Besides the competition and gold medal, what did you take away and learn from the entire YOG experience?

“It was all about the experience there. I was young and didn’t know how anything worked. The YOG in Innsbruck helped me a lot in my career and I’m fortunate to have been a part of this big event. I also enjoyed slowly learning how to talk to the media. It’s a unique experience to be surrounded by cameras and to be the centre of attention. The gold medal was, of course, a life-changing moment and, with all of the athletes there together, it was a beautiful atmosphere.”

How did Innsbruck 2012 prepare you for your first Olympic Winter Games two years later in Sochi?

“The Olympic Winter Games in Russia were a huge event and another good experience. It was something incredible, but I felt ready. It was beneficial to slowly progress from the YOG to the much bigger Games.”

Considering your experience and results, what do you need to do to improve as a ski jumper and cross-country skier? What are the next goals?

“My goal is to do well at the World Championships this February. However, I still have a lot of work to do to improve. I make mistakes everywhere, but I believe my time will come.”

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