The 2000 Sydney Olympics marks the second time since its 1993 'Velvet Divorce' with the Czech Republic that Slovakia will participate in the Games as an independent nation. An August 3 meeting of the Slovenský Olympijský Výbor (Slovak Olympic Committee - SOV) officially determined who exactly would represent the country in this year's international competition.
Slovakia will be represented this year by 112 athletes competing in 14 different sports (the Sydney Games will host a total of 28 disciplines). "It's a medium-sized expedition [in comparison to other competing teams]," said SOV spokesman Anton Zérer. The 112 athletes marks an increase of 41 from the national squad which competed in Atlanta in 1996.
Martin Benko, the Slovak Chef de Mission in Sydney, said that the significant increase in Slovak athletes was due to the inclusion of three teams on this year's squad: women's basketball, under-21 men's football, and water-polo. "In Atlanta, we did not have a single team entered," Benko said. "This is a historical milestone in the Slovak Olympic movement."
Approximately 30% of this year's team will be competing in their second Olympics; eight athletes will go for the third time, having competed as members of the 1992 Czechoslovak team.
For those athletes who win medals, or finish near the top, the SOV also announced the reward money to be paid. Awards will be given to any individual athlete or team which finishes in the top six of their field. Individual athletes will be paid as follows: gold, 2 million crowns ($43,000); silver, 1 million crowns; bronze, 600,000 crowns; 4th place, 200,000 crowns; 5th place, 150,000 crowns; 6th place, 100,000 crowns. Team-member athletes will each be paid: gold, 600,000 crowns ($13,000); silver, 400,000 crowns; bronze, 300,000 crowns; 4th place, 200,000 crowns; 5th place, 150,000 crowns; 6th place, 100,000 crowns.
In all, the SOV expects to pay out rewards to Slovak athletes totalling some 15 million crowns ($326,000).
Three of Slovakia's athletes have already won medals at the 1996 Atlanta Games, the country's only Olympic medals in history: Michal Martikán (gold medal in white-water kayaking), Slavomír Kňazovický (silver in flat-water kayaking) and Jozef Gonci (bronze in rifle shooting). Martina Moravcová, one of Europe's premiere swimmers, hopes to join the ranks of Slovak medal-winners, as do international tennis stars Karol Kučera and Dominik Hrbatý.
But according to Miro Haviar, the general secretary of the Slovak flat-water kayaking team, the Herculean Kňazovický represented the country's best shot at gold.
"Considering his past achievements and his consistent training, Kňazovický is the most promising hope," Haviar said. He added, however, that other members of Slovakia's kayaking teams also had the potential to mount the victory stand in Sydney.
SOV spokesman Zérer, meanwhile, said that the Slovaks hoped to come home with six medals, doubling their historical total to date. "This team is better prepared than the one which went to Atlanta," he said. "So if we win twice as many medals in Sydney as we did in Atlanta, it would signify a huge success for Slovakia."
Slovakia's 112 member Olympic contingent for the 2000 Sydney Games include canoeing and kayaking: 21 athletes, water sports: 19, men's Under-21 football: 18, track and field: 17, women's basketball: 12, cycling: 7, tennis: 5, wrestling 5, shooting: 3, judo: 1, rowing: 1, power lifting: 1, gymnastics: 1, yachting: 1.