He won silver at the European Championships, competed in three Paralympic Games and three years ago in Korea he carried out a Czech flag carrier expedition. The World Parachuting Championships, which kick off today in Ostrava, will be without player Miroslav Hrbek, but the bearded sympathizer will play a different role this time around. In an interview for Aktuálně.cz, he will reveal more and also share the experiences of a rich career.
What role did you come to Ostrava for the World Cup?
I haven’t played Parahoka for a year, I’m old for it. But I will be in the championship, I will try a new role, that of co-commenting on Czech television.
Are you looking forward to presenting your sport to the public?
I can not wait. Robert Záruba was also happy to bring my experience, I know a bit about Parahokeji over the years. I will try to bring the point of view of a player who could be different and new to the spectator. I like challenges and I believe that I will not make a fool of myself in front of a nation. (to laugh)
Two years ago at the World Championships in Ostrava, you were still on the list, but you only started a moment at the end of the bronze duel against Korea, right?
It was bad luck. A month before the World Cup, I was seriously injured in a preparatory match. I remained a member of the team, but only rode on the ice for a while. I liked it anyway, it was beautiful in front of the whole audience.
Then, you decided to quit because of your age?
I told myself that I no longer needed to go international. I might still have to join our league, but at 56 I have nothing more to prove to myself or to others. Seventeen seasons was enough, I don’t need to be beaten by young boys. I wouldn’t be quick enough for them, they would like me. Instead, I work as a coach here in Karlovy Vary.
How did you experience your accident when you lost both legs at the age of 31 after a collision with a train?
I am a person who takes life as it is. Of course, it’s a shock when something like this happens to you. But somehow I accepted, it came. Little by little, I discovered that something new was starting. I was not immediately “free” and “happy”, but my life took a new direction.
Has sport helped you too, even though you only started parahoke after seven years?
Certainly. I live in a small town and wheelchair users don’t have a lot of options here. I was looking for different routes, I tried archery, athletics, pinschers. But that didn’t mean much to me, in 1998 I fell in love with the parachute that I saw at the Paralympic Games in Nagano. It was not founded in the Czech Republic until 2000, three years later we founded a club in Vary. And that’s how it started.
Have you ever played hockey?
I enjoyed it, but I played it on the pond at most. The same path is then completely different. When new boys come to our club, we tell them to forget about hockey, that they have to learn to skate on a sled first. Only then can they engage the hockey head.
What are your best experiences during these seventeen years in the national team?
There are many, difficult to choose. Definitely the first Paralympic Games or the first World Cup in America, where our opening was before the NHL game, I guess Boston vs. Toronto. If I had to pick one, then the Vancouver Paralympics were great. When I started with a friend, I told a friend that I was on the national team within a year. And I did it in six months. (smile)
So, there are more experiences like this, when a lot of people came to Parahoka and you enjoyed the atmosphere of the hockey players?
Certainly. It was in Vancouver that we played for the first time to a full house, otherwise Parahokej is not very popular. For example, only eight hundred people will come to the final of the World Championships in America between the United States and Canada. But Ostrava showed two years ago that when the right publicity is given, people will come.
But even so, it must have been a shock to you in Ostrava two years ago when the full Ostravar Arena was running, right?
It was also a shock for the organizers. There were tickets for the whole day, not just a game. On the first day, five hundred people were needed in the hall for the opening match, and the organizers themselves were worried that someone would come to our Czech match in the evening. For example, 1,500 spectators came to the second game and it was already crowded for our sharpening. The organizers had to open more stands, moreover, they only had one window to sell tickets. They didn’t catch up, so they let the fans go without paying and people bought their tickets after the game. It was an incredible solidarity and emotion with the team. Unbelievable.
Ostrava 2019 has helped Czech Parahokeji to develop in general, hasn’t it? The sport has been promoted and the national team now has better conditions.
One hundred percent. He has reached out to people and big companies who can help. There were a lot of new players, which was necessary. We are very old there. The atmosphere helped, Czech television. Now the boys are professionals and can prepare, while other teams may not have trained at all. The Canadians last saw each other in March. Our boys have a winter in Poděbrady and they could be out on the ice every week. I think it will have a big impact on the way we play.
Miroslav Hrbek in the Czech Republic – USA semi-final at the 2019 World Championships Photo: Dalibor Sosna
In the past you would pay more for less training frequency and focus before big tournaments, you see?
We had a training weekend before the big tournament, otherwise we would meet once every two or three months. Everyone did it for free and put their own money into it instead. When someone came from a poor club, he had to look for hockey sticks, gloves and all the equipment himself. The national team didn’t have to buy it for us. It was total amateurism. I always said they wanted professional results in amateur conditions. This is why it was a miracle where we arrived. We played regularly at the A World Championships, we went to the Paralympics. I guess it was that enthusiasm.
In recent years, have you felt the need to rejuvenate the national team?
It’s always nice to be able to find talented players who still have the will to do something more about it. Because talent is not enough. And it was really necessary, we had perhaps the highest average age in the world. It’s not easy to take on new faces, because wheelchair users today have a lot of other options that weren’t for us.
You and Tomáš Kvoch, another representative legend, personally symbolically handed over the scepter to the youngest clip parahokejové hymns. There, you and the team showed that you can laugh at yourself when, for example, you sing about “sweeping the corners of the portal when it isn’t going through your legs.” Is such humor the basis of a good cabin atmosphere?
These are the words of musician Jiří Krhut. But it suits us perfectly, I must admit. Sometimes people are absolutely horrified by our humor. When we sit in a pub, we still have fun with black humor, which is not black for us. Words like “cripples” and the like fall off, and we don’t care about our disabilities. (smile) We take it like that, it’s normal and people sometimes shake their heads as we can afford. It belongs to the team.
Will the Czech team’s main goal in Ostrava be to finish fifth and qualify for the Paralympic Games in Beijing?
Sure, but the guys want more. They want to go to the semi-finals again and play for the medals. Canada and the USA have rebounded on about three levels, they should be in the final. For us, the Paralympic Games will definitely be the main focus, but the boys will want to win the quarter-finals and play for the medals. They worked all year, they could have the upper hand. Although Russia returned to the elite group, it was once the only one that could compete with overseas countries. It will be even harder, in fact all teams are a big unknown. We’ll see when he starts playing.
World Championships in Ostrava:
It kicks off today at 12:00 p.m. with the Czech Republic’s game against Korea. In the core group, the Czechs will still face the defending champions of United States (Sunday, 2:30 p.m.) a Canada (Tuesday, 2:30 p.m.). The first two teams in the group will qualify directly for the semi-finals, the other two await the quarter-finals against the best pair in group B (Italy, Norway, Slovakia, Mask).
In addition to the world medals, there is a qualifying game for paralympiádu In Beijing. The first five of the general classification advance there, the three remaining teams will be able to fight for a ticket under the five circles during the qualification of autumn.
The last World Parachuting Championships were also held in Ostrava in 2019 and broke spectator records. All in all, she saw her duels in an amazing place 65 thousand Fans.
Anti-coronavirus measures have reduced the capacity of the Ostravar Arena in Vítkovice this year, but tickets are still available at the Web championship.
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