Juraj Bača (rear) and Michal Riszdorfer represent two of the country's most promising hopes for Olympic gold this year in Sydney.
"We hope that our friends envy us," the two 23 year-olds admitted frankly to The Slovak Spectator during a training break on July 1 at their Komárno kayaking club in southern Slovakia.
The two certainly have a reason to be self-confident. Owning the kind of muscular physiques important for kayaking, Riszdorfer and Bača have both proven their talent with wins at important championships in the run-up to the Sydney Olympics later this year. Their most significant scalps to date include taking the gold in the 500 metres K2 (double kayak) event at the 1998 World Championships and another gold at last year's World Championships in the K2 1000 metres, leaving the double world champions among the hottest candidates for Olympic gold in both events.
"We have trust in them and hope that they will bring a medal or two home from Australia," said Anton Zerer, spokesman for the Slovak Olympic committee. "What speaks for them is that they are the only Slovak sportsmen who became world champions in an Olympic discipline just a year before the Sydney Olympics."
Tibor So-s, the duo's trainer, described both kayakers as strong personalities able to concentrate hard both mentally and physically to reach set training targets. "They are quite independent but disciplined. Both are very ambitious. All they care about is their own result during a race. They don't care about their rivals," So-s enthused.
Soos added that after a race he himself has to tell them what times and places the other kayakers recorded, Bača's and Riszdorfer's interest in such things being limited. "They only care about their own performance," the trainer added.
Riszdorfer and Bača, both Komárno natives, started kayaking at primary school. "We had nothing to do during our free time, so we just played football and did stupid things. Then we started to hang out with members of our kayaking club," Bača joked. But the eventual move to the club gave them opportunities to see and do things that most Slovaks could only dream about before Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution in November 1989. "Before 1989 we managed to visit countries like Italy and France. What else would have been more attractive for teenagers like us?" Bača recalled somewhat wistfully.
As both their talent and ambition started to grow, the pair began to pick up trophies, winning first the Slovak championship in K4 [four-man kayaking] - the discipline they first started out in - and later putting the 1995 junior World Championship in K4 at both 500 and 1,000 metres under their belts. A few weeks after the championship the successful pair left the Slovak junior team for greener pastures and joined the senior teams, harbouring even bigger ambitions.
Having known each other for more than 10 years, Bača and Rizdorfer are also good friends, something they both rate as a plus for mutual co-operation in competition. "It is always good when the approach of sportsmen is professional, but itşs even better when itşs supported by a mutual friendship," Riszdorfer said.
Ambitious though they are, the two friends had to share a failure when they performed badly at both the European and World Championships in 1997 - something that prompted So-s to separate them from the other half of the K4 team as their mightyphysiques singled them out from their teammates. "This worked out perfectly," So-s explained. "The two of them were already dominant and we wanted to try them as a double kayak team. They had heavy builds and were just perfectly suited to double kayaking."
Despite the fact that the young kayakers have a depth of competitive experience that ranks them alongside any Olympic athlete, their professional career is still, they say, in its early stages. The two confide that they have ambitions outside sport and freely admit that when their university studies are complete (Bača is studying psychology at the university in Nitra and Riszdorfer is taking classes at the faculty of physical education at Comenius University) they will look beyond their kayaking skills for employment.
However, both are keen to stay involved in the field and talk of playing a part in the shaping of Slovak sports. "For my part, I would like to do psychology only as a hobby. But I would definitely like to do something for Slovak sport because I have already experienced its drawbacks," Bača said.
"I want to be involved in the organisation of sport in Slovakia, to help sports generally in Slovakia, and to help resolve some of the weaknesses we have here."
17. Jul 2000 at 0:00 | Peter Barecz