František Janda-Suk: the first Bohemian olympic medalist

Before Czechoslovakia came into existence after the First World War, Bohemia participated in several of the first modern Olympic Games, namely in 1900, 1908 and 1912. Still an integral part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time, Bohemia was the only dominion outside of the Austria and Hungary to be able to participate in the Olympiads.

After missing the first modern Olympiad in Athens in 1896, Bohemia was one of the twenty-four nations represented at the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris. Bohemia once again missed the 1904 games in St. Louis, Missouri, which were poorly organised and simply too far away for the European nations (Austria and Hungary sent a combined six athletes). After that, Bohemia or its successor states missed the games only once, in 1984 following the Soviet-led boycot of the Los Angeles games, making the Czech Republic one of the countries to participate in the most Olympic Games.

The early Olympic Games reflected competitive sport’s high society character. For example, the 1900 Games in which Bohemia debuted, featured rather elitist or obsolete sports like croquet, Basque pelota, shooting, fencing, golf, sailing and – believe it or not – tug of war. Bohemia sent a total of seven athletes to the second Games. The Bohemians managed to tally two medals in 1900, the first of which was won by František Janda-Suk.

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František Janda-Suk was twenty-two years old when he travelled to Paris to compete in the Summer Olympics. He was selected to start in the discus throw. Before leaving for France, Janda-Sak studied throwing techniques intesively. With the re-emergence of the ‘classic’ Olympics barely 14 years ago, it is not unsurprising Janda-Suk turned to the ancient Greeks for help.

This is when Janda-Suk found Discobolus. The Greek original of the statue of a discus thrower was lost, but numerous bronze and marble Roman replica’s remain (see image). Janda-Suk was in fact the first modern atheltes to copy the Discobolus’ style of rotating the entire body during the throwing movement.

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Janda-Suk’s combination of the new and the old earned him a silver medal merely a year after mastering the technique. In the final, Janda-Suk threw a stunning 35.14 metres, that was second only to Hungary’s Rudolf Bauer, who reached 36.04 metres. The current world record is slightly better at 74.08 metres, but athletes have remained to use Janda-Suk’s body-spinning manners ever since.

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