Historic stand. Canoeist Michal Martikán (center) celebrates his white-water slalom victory - independent Slovakia's first Summer Olympic gold - with Czech silver medalist Lukaš Pollert (left) and French bronze medalist Patrice Estanguet.
President Michal Kováč was there, his coat thrown off in the summer evening heat, energetically waving a white handkerchief in greeting the 70 Slovak competitors as they entered the packed stadium. Within the first eight days of competition, two of those athletes had won medals and one of those two had 1 million Sk coming his way, courtesy of the Slovak Olympic Committee.
The nation's voracious appetite for its first medal was satiated when rifleman Jozef Gönci fired off a bronze in the 50 meter air rifle contest with a score of 701.9. "I think I am now among the happiest people in the world," the 22-year-old Košice native said. "Before taking off for Atlanta, my trainer and I did everything we could to ensure success, but we weren't counting on getting to the finals. I thank God that it happened."
Gönci's family rejoiced. "You cannot imagine how much I cried," said Gönci's mother, Anna Gönciová. "When I called to tell my daughter what happened, I couldn't even talk. Now I'll have to take all my money from my account in the next few days and buy all the newspapers with stories about Jožko and save them."
Michal Martikán of Liptovský Mikuláš paddled a virtually flawless run on his way to gold.
His standing, however, was low, considering Martikán had won the World Championships on this course in April. Anything short of a top three finish would have been disappointing. Earlier in the week, Katarína Piačková, a secretary at Martikán's home club KTK Dukla Liptovský Mikuláš, said, "He's the best of our competitors and he is our best chance, we hope, for a medal."
With his compatriots watching back home live on STV, Martikán paddled a perfect second run. Stroking furiously, he cleanly maneuvered through all 25 gates without any penalties. Upon crossing the finish line in a time of 151.03 seconds, he glanced at the scoreboard, saw he was in first and raised his paddle briefly in triumph. Then he made his way to the river shore, grinned and cried as members of his team ran to embrace him.
Before he could claim victory, Martikán had to watch the last couple competitors make their way down the course. He got a scare as his smooth-paddling Czech rival, Lukáš Pollert, threatened to overtake Martikán. But Pollert fell 14 hundredths of a second short and wound up with silver. Martikán's triumph earned him independent Slovakia's first gold medal in a Summer Olympics.
Hype and Disappointment
Rifleman Jozef Gönci's (right) bronze was independent Slovakia's first Summer Olympic medal.
"She has done very well and we are proud of her," said her father, Karol Moravec, speaking from the family home in Piešťany. "I think ninth in the Olympics is a very strong performance." He did reveal, though, that Moravcová felt the weight of a country's expectations that she would medal. "She feels disappointed of course," Moravcová's father said. "But you know, that's sports."
Moravcová's was hardly the only tale of woe. Yachtsman Marek Valášek had to delay his departure to Atlanta because he was mugged in Bratislava. But the 23-year-old bounced back in the seawater off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, to finish a surprising fifth in the first race of the yachting competition. But in the fourth stage, Valášek made a crucial mistake and fell out of his boat. He finished twenty-second.
Although the Games' first ten days yielded only two medals for Slovakia, there were other successes. Kayaker Gabriela Bosková took fifth place in the women's single slalom, and tennis player Karina Habšudová advanced to the round of 16, before losing to fourth seed Iva Majoli of Croatia, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
31. Jul 1996 at 0:00 | Phil Lodge