MARTINA Moravcová, Slovakia's top swimmer and Olympic medallist, is heading for her fifth Olympics. Even though she knows that the march of time cannot be halted, and that her younger rivals can swim faster, she is more experienced and still very competitive. Swimmers' careers are becoming longer and so, despite nearing the end of her own, she does not have plans for exactly what she will do after she stops being a competitive swimmer.
The Slovak Spectator spoke to Martina Moravcová about her swimming career, the Olympics, and her plans for the future.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): The Olympic Games in Beijing will be the fifth Games of your career. So far, you have won two silver medals, in Sydney. You told the Hospodárske Noviny newspaper "Don't expect any medals from me any more". Does this mean that the end of your active career is near, or just that it's sometimes difficult to cope with the burden of medal expectations?
Martina Moravcová (MM): Well, my statements weren’t meant to indicate the end of my career or as a response to someone else’s expectations. I am still a very competitive person and always want to swim good times and results. However, I am a realist. I know that the new generation of swimmers is swimming faster and better than I am capable of at this point of my career. I have not been improving my personal best times. While my best times would have gotten me a medal in the Olympics eight years ago, this year they may not be good enough for a place in the final. So even though my swimming career is coming to an end, it is the evolution of swimming that is difficult to battle.
TSS: Can you compare yourself from the times of your first Olympics in 1992 in Barcelona and now? You are more experienced and know better how to cope with the stress of important competitions.
MM: Definitely. I think that my experience could be the only advantage that I may have over some less experienced competitors. In Barcelona, I was a rookie and now I am a master, in terms of my age and experience. I do not have any particular expectations as far as my results go, so I can only surprise myself. Nevertheless, I would be very happy with any place in the final.
TSS: Are the Olympics different from other top competitions?
MM: Not really. I compete against the same competitors as I do in the World championships. However, the Olympics is a well-recognised sporting event which is held once every four years and therefore has more significance and is perceived with more importance in people’s minds. Thus, the accomplishments are valued higher, more cherished, and recognised.
TSS: Has swimming changed since your first Olympic appearance in 1992 in Barcelona?
MM: The sport of swimming has changed dramatically. The times are much faster, the depth of the field is greater, and we race in body suits these days.
TSS: You are a very versatile swimmer. In which events or categories will you compete in Beijing? Is there one which you prefer than the others?
MM: I will compete in the 100m butterfly and 50m and 100m freestyle. I like the 100m butterfly the best and I feel that my biggest chance for success is in this event.
TSS: Have you already tested the water in Beijing? What do you think about the facilities in which the games will take place?
MM: Yes, I did. In February, I took part in the “Good Luck Beijing” testing event, which was conducted in the actual Olympic facilities and run as the actual Olympics will be. I think the Water Cube (the swimming stadium) is really fantastic, cool and unique-looking.
How are you preparing for the Olympics?
MM: I am training at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, with the varsity team under the guidance of Steve Collins, my coach of 13 years. I would say it is business as usual. I swim about 3-4 hours per day, I lift weights, and do dry-land exercises. I also try to eat a healthy, nutritious diet and sleep a lot to recover better. My preparation is not only about the hours spent in training, but also about the recovery phase, which has become very important as I have got older and hence slower to recover.
TSS: In the past you have undergone serious health problems. You were diagnosed with Graves' disease, which causes an overactive thyroid. In order to have the best chance of maintaining your swimming career, you chose the most radical treatment option: total removal of your thyroid. You’ve also been having problems with your arm for more than one year. How are you now?
MM: I am doing much better and all of my health issues seem to be under control right now. Being healthy and injury-free is a necessity for every athlete.
TSS: Slovakia will have only two swimmers at the Games in Beijing, you and Denisa Smolenová. After the Olympics, Smolenová will follow in your footsteps by studying at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and training under Steven Collins. What are her prospects?
MM: There is a chance for other swimmers to qualify for Beijing. The qualification deadline is in mid-July so I hope there will be more than two of us. In Dallas, Denisa will have the same great opportunity as I had and it will be up to her how she will use it. Her future is in her hands only.
TSS: You have won dozens of medals during your illustrious career. Do you know the exact number? Where do you keep them? And which of them is the most valuable to you?
MM: To date, I have won 67 medals at the Olympics, World and European Championships combined. I have had them framed and they are hanging on a wall along a stairway in my family house in Piešťany. I treasure all of them, but the Olympic ones have a special place in my heart.
TSS: What do you consider to be milestones in your successful swimming career?
MM: I have been lucky in this sense because my career has been full of such great moments and experiences.
TSS: Swimmers’ careers are getting longer. We see 40-year-old female swimmers winning competitions. You are 32. How long do you plan to continue swimming?
MM: Hopefully, I will swim for a long time. It is a lifestyle choice. But carrying on with swimming as a career: not for long. I have a few months rather than years left in me.
TSS: Do you have any plans for what you would like to do after your swimming career?
MM: No. I do not. Nothing in particular. I would like to start a family and that could be the tiebreaker.
TSS: You have built a house in Piešťany and graduated from SMU, with a Master’s degree in applied economics. Do you see your future in America or in Slovakia?
MM: I do not look too far ahead. I would rather live in the present. I wish I could live in both places but when I think about it, swimming has allowed me to do exactly that. However, our decisions will depend on opportunities that come my - or our - way. My husband is from Slovakia as well but his career choice (as a lawyer) is less universal than mine.
TSS: What is the future of swimming in Slovakia? Who are the up-and-coming talents?
MM: It doesn't look too bright. In Slovakia, I feel that the conditions for swimming and other sports in general have worsened in the past decade. In Atlanta, Slovakia had more than 100 qualified Olympians, now we have less than half that number. A majority of sports are not professional and their development depends on funding and support from the government, whether it is at state or municipal level, or from sponsors. In the past decade, in real terms, the government has been cutting its funding to sports each year; the old sports centres are being closed or privatised. Swimming in Slovakia has always been small and about a few talented individuals rather than a strong team. We have had quite a few promising young individuals, yet none of them was able to break into the senior level so far. I hope that Denisa will use her chance and that she will motivate others to follow.
7. Jul 2008 at 0:00 | Jana Liptáková