Feature Prague, Czech Republic

Walking, running, cycling – Anezka Drahotova excels at them all

Anezka Drahotova leading the 2013 IAAF World Championships 20km Race Walk (Getty Images)Anezka Drahotova leading the 2013 IAAF World Championships 20km Race Walk (Getty Images) © Copyright

The 18-year-old girl from Rumburk, which nestles on the Czech border with Germany, seems to be able to do everything. Maybe if Anezka Drahotova started to play football or learnt how to play chess, she could add those talents to her portfolio.  

However, the 2013 European Athletics Junior Championships 10,000m Race Walk gold medallist in the Italian town of Rieti already manages to excel in several other sports.

In addition to her walking ability, she is also an international standard runner, cyclist, triathlete and skier.

However, walking is her first love and possibly her most talented discipline, the one she is likely to dedicate herself to in the next year with the IAAF World Racing Walking Cup and IAAF World Junior Championships on the horizon in 2014.

After her continental triumph in Rieti this summer, she surprised the athletics world, and herself, when finishing seventh in the 20km Race Walk at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, after ambitiously leading the way until past the halfway point in the race.

“I expected that the Russian walkers would go to the front in the end and I knew it was going to be tough,” said Drahotova, who eventually clocked 1:29:05 to make a huge improvement to her personal best and equal the Czech record of Barbora Dibelkova from 2005.

"I was very surprised with the time. The pace was not that fast at the beginning, so I wanted to go the way I liked and not to squeeze into a group with the others, but I missed a bit of power in the finish. I think my big advantage is that I can go beyond my own (previous) limits.”

Briefly, it looked like she would become the youngest man or woman to win a race walking medal at the IAAF World Championships.

“I still felt really great around the 13th kilometre and I told myself that it was not normal, but it was a 20km race and my tiredness started to show at around the 16th and 17th kilometre. I knew then that a medal was only a dream, but I was satisfied with my result.”

Still a junior in 2014, her targets for next year are now clear: the IAAF World Race Walking Cup, the IAAF World Junior Championships and the European Championships in that order.

“The seventh place from Moscow was great, and it is very promising, but the gap between myself and the top women is still huge. However, I am glad that my opponents know who I am now. The World Cup in China will be like a rehearsal for me ahead of the rest of the season.”

Drahotova, coached by Ivo Pitak, has already decided to go for the junior 10km race in Taicang, together with her twin sister Eliska who finished third in Rieti.

“We were wondering also about the double (and racing in the 20km Race Walk) but we agreed on the junior race as a stepping stone towards the World Junior Championships. In Zurich, at the European Championships, I will focus on a place in the top eight.”

Less than a month after her outstanding performance in the Russian capital against the rest of the best in the world, Drahotova showed her ability on the roads as a runner when she was the fastest Czech woman in the well-known Prague Grand Prix 10km international race. The next day she also improved her best over 3000m on the track.

The following weekend, she also won a national team title in cycling while later in September she competed at the World Cycling Championships in Florence, finishing 19th in the junior women’s road race over 82.8km.

“She is good at everything which is longer than two minutes,” said her coach Pitak.

Into the bargain, it’s also worth remembering that she finished seventh in the junior race at the 2012 World Mountain Running Championships in 2012.

With her abundance of talent in different spheres, and despite her success in Moscow, she has demurred from committing 100 per cent to one activity, but race walking looks like the area she will devote more of her resources and talent to in the immediate future.

“Everything is possible but after my results in race walking this year, I think I will focus on this event next year as well. But if all goes well also with my running, why not to try that too? One of the reasons (for concentrating on walking) is that I was a bit disappointed after my result in the Steeplechase in Rieti (where she finished ninth), so I look forward to race walking now,” she smiled.

At least, as far as athletics is concerned, she does not think of herself as a cyclist. “We only spend a little time on the bicycle, which helps me during the volume training. I am more an athlete than a cyclist. But cycling is a good motivation for the future.”

However, as the only person to compete in both sports’ World Championships this year, the inevitable question is how do the two match up?

“You cannot compare them. In race walking, you have to keep a constant pace and hold on. On the other hand, in cycling, you have to estimate the right moment when to give your best performance. One moment you have to push it, and the other, you can rest a bit. I think the most exhausting event for me was in Moscow.

“The next World Championships in athletics are in 2015 and many things can happen in two years. I would also love to improve my PB at the Half Marathon in 2014,” said the Czech teenager, who does not have the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen next March in her diary.

“When I look at my results this year, I think I will try it with race walking," she added. "And if I do well also in running events, why not to try those too?”

Zuzana Trojakova for the IAAF