At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the Czech Republic took home the gold medal in ice hockey for the first time since it was a part of Czechoslovakia, which dissolved in 1992.
That victory is what sparked Communication sophomore Adam Pečeňa’s interest in the Winter Olympics, and sent the entire country into a frenzy. A native of Prague, Pečeňa remembers people considering it a huge national celebration.
“That kind of engrained the thought that ‘this is something important that I need to be watching,’” he said.
Another Czech student, Weinberg sophomore Petr Palecek, remembers witnessing his hometown of Ostrava after that victory.
“Everyone went into the streets celebrating, everyone was drunk,” Palecek said. “There were people drinking in the streets, cars would be driving around, blowing their horns, everyone was just going bonkers.”
But now, going to school in the United States and living in Evanston, international students like Pečeňa and Palecek won’t be able to experience the euphoric chaos of a huge win for their teams when the Winter Olympics begin Friday in Sochi, Russia.
For the first time in their lives, they’ll have to watch the Olympics away from home. Making that even tougher is the time difference – Sochi is 10 hours ahead of Evanston.
“I’m definitely going to try watching if I can,” Pečeňa said. “If I can’t, they have an app that will let me know whenever a [hockey] goal is scored or something.”
Pečeňa and Palecek enjoy watching hockey the most, as it’s one of the more popular sports in the Czech Republic. Palecek, who is on the Northwestern club hockey team, said he “probably won’t stay up unless it’s a hockey game.” Back in Ostrava, Olympic hockey was even treated like a national holiday.
“Sometimes even if the Czech hockey team got into the playoffs, schools would even allow kids to watch TV during class hours,” Palecek said. “We had almost a whole day off just because the Czech hockey team was playing someone in the Olympics.”
But they don’t only follow hockey. They’ll miss the hometown atmosphere when a Czech Olympian does something unexpected, like Aleš Valenta’s 2002 groundbreaking triple–backflip–with–five–twists in the freestyle aerials competition.
“I always like the moments when it’s some sort of sport that I wasn’t planning to watch,” Pečeňa said. “I turned the TV on at a time that I wasn’t expecting to be watching, I switched [to] the Olympic Channel, and there’s some sort of sport going on, and I see a Czech person be second or something.”
Of course, it will be vastly different cheering on their Czech Olympians from Northwestern. Instead of going to pubs filled to the brim with fans, neither Pečeňa nor Palecek have plans to watch.
“It kind of sucks,” Palecek said. “I’m definitely not happy about it because a lot of my friends are still going to go and experience that, so I’m definitely going to miss the atmosphere.”
But Pečeňa doesn’t think it’s all bad being away from home. He just wants to see a good game of hockey.
“It’s sort of a bittersweet feeling because it’s kind of fun to watch everyone else and they’re cheering for a different team,” he said. “But at the same time you’d like to have that group experience, and you know that there are people at home who you used to cheer with.”