Perhaps nowhere were the celebrations of Slovakia's first independent Summer Olympic team more euphoric than in Liptovský Mikuláš. Despite driving rain, 2,000 of this central Slovak town's 30,000 residents -including the mayor - came out to welcome home their beloved canoeists, led by gold medal winner Michal Martikán.
The 17-year-old Martikán, who said he had never seen so many of the townsfolk in one place before, is one of seven out of Slovakia's 10 Olympic slalom canoeists and kayakers that train with the club KTK Dukla Liptoský Mikuláš. All seven locals finished in the top 19 against the best in the world and three finished in the top 10.
Ján Piaček, the club's secretary, said the athletes' success filled the entire club with pride. In addition to Martikán, he highlighted Gabriela Brosková's fifth place finish as "the greatest success in her life."
One canoeist not hailing from Liptovský Mikuláš gave Slovakia its third and final medal on the Games' last day. Slavomír Kňazovický added a silver to Martikán' gold and rifleman Jozef Gönci's bronze, when he finished second in the 500 meter sprint. His performance came two days after wrestler Jozef Lohyňa almost duplicated his bronze medal performance from 1988 when he finished fourth in the 90 kilogram and under division. In all, 71 Slovaks - 58 men and 13 women - competed in 64 events across 15 sports. The three medals they won placed Slovakia 41st among 197 nations competing in Atlanta, as ranked by top three finishes.
In addition to winning medals, Slovak athletes broke five national records in Atlanta. Gönci set a new national mark in a qualifying round with a score of 599. His teammate, Vladimír Slamka, also set a new record in his qualifying round with a score of 122 in the trap competition. Weightlifter Martin Tešovič registered a combined lift of 372.5 kilograms for men 91 kg and under, and swimmer Martina Moravcová set a new record with her first heat time of 2:16.50 in the 200 meter freestyle. The last record was set by Štefan Balošák, who advanced to the semifinals in the 400 meter sprint in a time of 45.32 seconds. He couldn't match that in the next round, finishing sixth in his semifinal with a time of 45.59.
14. Aug 1996 at 0:00 | Rick Zedník