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Olympic Memories from a Former Member of the ‘72 Czech Basketball Team

Olympic Memories from a Former Member of the ‘72 Czech Basketball Team

27.7.2012 14:05
Autor: Jiří Balaštík, KSB

That is why I am looking forward to the London Games, not as a competitor this time but as a fan.

The Games that kick off in London today take me back 40 years ago to Munich where I had the opportunity to play basketball on the Czechoslovak National Team. I first started playing sports as a young boy but I took up basketball fairly late – when I was about thirteen. I was drafted by the Brno-based team Zbrojovka, and from there it was just a “short distance” to the Olympic Team. Although short, it was the most challenging leg of the journey.

Back then, in the early 1970s, the Czechoslovak National Team was dominated by a group of good friends and players from Zbrojovka Brno and Prague-based Slavia. They were around 27 years old, the best age for a player, and there were several 20-year-old “youngsters” who sought to get on the team, including myself. It was therefore a bit of a battle at pre-Olympic training camps, where it was clear that some of us would have to stay home. Anyway, I and four other “youngsters” managed to get into the line-up. This is why I consider the mere fact of being there to be a great victory and a child’s dream fulfilled.

Key Match with Cuba

I can clearly recall the opening ceremony and the Parade of Nations. All the athletes were swept up by the events surrounding the Olympics, which was very distracting and challenged the athletes to maintain their focus. Our several months of training were dedicated to ensuring we played our best on the fourth day of the tournament, when we would play Cuba in a key match. It was clear beforehand that we would lose to the US, but to get to the finals we would first have to beat Cuba.

The fourth day of every practice before the Olympics was always the toughest to ensure we were ready for the match with Cuba. Unfortunately, we lost to Cuba after all despite having won all six preliminary matches. We did not make it to the finals and ended up in eighth place overall.

The Terrorist Attack Changed the Atmosphere

Of course, the terrorist attack against the Israeli athletes had its impact on us, too. For one thing, we were not able to get any official information and the unofficial word was foggy if not patently untrue. We only knew the tragic attack took place but had no idea who committed it and why. The Olympics came to a halt for about a day and it was unclear whether it would resume. Germany was intent on going forward with the Games but I can remember packing up to go home. We ended up staying but the Olympic atmosphere was entirely different.

It is useless to deny that the Munich Olympics were made into an immensely politicized event, both by German and Czech authorities. It was the same at other Olympics as well, primarily in Moscow and Los Angeles, where athletes from the “enemy” block did not even take part. The aspect of politics disappeared after the end of the Cold War only to make way for something else to appear: the ever-increasing costs for the Games and the grandiose way they are held that has nothing in common with Coubertin’s original idea, which reached its apex four years ago in Beijing. I strongly hope the London Games will be more modest, less opulent, and help to give new life to the original Olympic idea.

Until the scale is reduced, small countries like the Czech Republic will be unable even to think about hosting the Olympic Games. It is simply impossible given the current “standards”. I must admit that when the idea of holding the Games in the Czech Republic came up, I supported it and kept my fingers crossed. However, it did not take long to realize that many things would have to change both in the Olympic movement and in our country, whether speaking of the politics, investment environment, or the economic conditions of the country.

Toughness, Endurance, Respect

I very seldom watch sports – I still prefer to be on the court. I quit basketball in my fifties and have followed a principle ever since that after that age it is better to take part in individual sports or a game where there is a net between the opposing teams or athletes. But I have nothing but positive things to say about team sports: they force you to push yourself on one hand and respect others on the other. You also need to build endurance and follow rules. All this helps greatly both in everyday life and in business.

I cannot wait to see the Games in London. I am looking forward to women’s basketball, men’s volleyball, and two days of track and field which I will have the opportunity to attend. I hope that the Games will be a success and that nothing happens that could ruin them. I also hope that we have the chance to celebrate a lot of medals won by Czech athletes and that we can rejoice in an unforgettable sports experience.

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