At age 32, the newly crowned World Decathlon Champion Roman Sebrle shows little sign of slowing down.
It is a breezy, mid-September early evening and competition on the track has begun. Roman Sebrle is barely breaking a sweat. He is quite relaxed and strides around the infield at the Kladno Athletics Complex with a certain nonchalance, yet a strong sense of confidence.
Burly discus throwers and lanky hurdlers are warming up, and it is obvious by the look in their eyes that they are significantly more intense than the Czech Olympic gold medalist, Decathlon world record holder, and recently crowned World Champion. You might wonder if we’re talking about arguably the world’s greatest athlete.
On this fall night, some of the top regional talent has gathered to challenge each other on the track and in the field at a League Meet held about 40 km outside of Prague.
For Sebrle, the occasion is merely a good opportunity to warm-up, stretch a bit, do some sprints, see some friends, sign some autographs, and také in a bit of fresh air while honing his skills in the discus and hurdles competition.
Essentially, a competition practice as he calls it. Obviously, a much easier task than going to battle over two grueling days with the well-chiseled global warriors that pride themselves on being called Decathletes.
For the popular Czech Athletics superstar, it has been less than two weeks since one of the most dramatic and satisfying victories of his illustrious career. Up until then, Sebrle had achieved almost everything that a world class Decathlete dreams of in his sport: A gold and silver medal at the Olympic Games; a world record performance of 9,026 points which still stands six years after he set it; two World Indoor Championships; two European Championships; and three European Indoor Championships. On Saturday, September 1st in Osaka, Japan, the 32-year-old finally captured that elusive World Championship gold medal with a stellar effort on his 6th attempt.
“It meant so much for me because it was the last gold from the biggest competition which I hadn’t won. Now I have it,” says Sebrle. “I really wasn’t in perfect shape. When I came to Japan I didn’t feel very good and the competition wasn’t going so well. But I fought hard and finally did it. It was really emotional.”
Sebrle displayed poise under pressure. His performance, particularly in the final two events, was about as clutch as you can get. He entered the Decathlon’s 9th event, the javelin, in third place and trailing the leader, Maurice Smith of Jamaica, by a substantial 221 points. While the young Jamaican struggled only tossing the spear 53.61 meters (175 feet, 10 inches), Sebrle uncorked a timely personal best of 71.18 meters (233 feet, six inches) propelling him into the lead by 44 points with only the 1500-meter race remaining.
In the 1500, Sebrle needed to stay within ten meters of Smith to protect his lead and ensure victory. He did so running 4:35.32 to Smith’s 4:33.52 crossing the finish line triumphantly before falling to the track in exhaustion.
“He did really well and increased his personal best by alot,” said Sebrle of Smith’s courageous performance. “But I knew how good of a javelin thrower he is and I know how good I am. I said to myself, throw as well as possible and we’ll see how prepared he is this year.”
More than a mere athlete
Medals aside, life is good these days for the veteran competitor, who has been voted the Czech Republic’s Best Athlete of the Year five times in a row, from 2001-2006.
When not vaulting over bars or tossing shots, Sebrle spends time with his wife of seven years, Eva, or his five-year-old son, Stepan, and 18-month-old daughter, Katerina.
“I like being a father because it is so different than sporting life,” says Sebrle. “I enjoy coming home and playing with the kids. It’s the best part of my life. Eva is a good wife; she really supports me during training camps when she is alone at home with the kids.”
In addition to fatherhood, Sebrle is also busy developing a new sports club in Veleslavin, Prague 6. The doors are scheduled to open next year and Sebrle plans on being there as much as possible. Believe it or not, he also manages to find time for the occasional round of Prague 6. “I’m not so good off the tee with my drives,” says the 10-handicapper. “I need a wide course, because I am also not very good from the rough.” Like any great athlete, Roman is never satisfied with his own performance.
Despite trying to find the right balance between athletics, family, and his latest business venture, Sebrle shows only a little sign of slowing down on the track.
“I don’t think about the world record any more, but I think about 8800 and 8900 (decathlon points) still,” he admits. “Maybe I can still improve in the throwing events, because I might be a little slower in the sprint events. If I continue as I am now for two or three more years, I will be satisfied.
I am very satisfied now.”
With the Beijing Summer Olympics less than one year away, there is added motivation for Sebrle to stay on top of the Decathlon pack. Only two Decathletes in Olympic history have ever won back-to-back gold medals, and Roman has the chance to become the third. The difficult feat was accomplished by American Bob Mathias, who won in 1948 & 1952, and Great Britain’s Daley Thompson, who did so in 1980 & 1984. Additionally, Sebrle could become the first Decathlete to win a medal of any color at three consecutive Olympic Games.
“The Olympic Games is the most important goal for any athlete or sportsman,” Berle says. “I think about it, but it is still too far away. I just have to stay healthy for the indoor season and after that prepare for the Olympics.
Of course, I want to win. I remember that feeling and want to experience it again.”
The dangers of track and field
Sebrle, who unofficially trains with the army sports club TJ Dukla Praha, is technically a soldier in the Czech Army.
However, he does not take part in any military operations and only on a rare occasion in any military training. So while being wounded in battle is highly improbable, Sebrle almost saw his career – and possibly his life – ended after a freak accident this past January during a training period in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
A javelin thrown by a South African woman, Sunette Viljoen, who happened to be a friend of Sberle’s, hit the Olympic champion on the front edge of his right shoulder and proceeded to pierce him, 12 cm deep. “It was my fault because I walked through the javelin throwing area. I was concentrating on my training and forgot what was going on,” explains Sebrle. “I heard some noise and a special sound.
I don’t know exactly what happened, but I realized something was very wrong. I’m just looking around and after two or three seconds I look at my right shoulder and see the javelin stuck inside. I was shocked, but I took it out and said ‘call the ambulance.’ It wasn’t that painful,” he recalls.
Fortunately for him, the javelin struck between the skin and muscle and a T-shirt actually helped it from going further inside. Sebrle escaped with only eleven stitches, although he admitted that he was only 1 cm from a careerending injury and about 20 cm from actually being killed. “It was a really bad feeling. I thought about how lucky I was two hours after.”
An astonishing three days later, the Czech Republic’s bionic man was training once again. Even with the recent World Championship title now in hand, plenty of work still lies ahead for the highly motivated Sebrle, who talks about not only competing next summer in Beijing, but also four years later in London. “It will be very interesting someday without training. Now I’m starting to look a little bit into coaching, but who knows. I don’t know exactly what to expect,” he says, anticipating his eventual retirement.
For now, it is evident that Sebrle still immensely enjoys doing what he does best. “If you start doing sport, especially athletics, you have to like it and you have to do it for fun.
That is the first thing,” he continues. “I still love it and its still fun for me. I’m glad that I still have so much motivation.” As the sun sets over the stadium in Kladno, the various medal winners are called up to a small and unimpressive podium. On this evening, Sebrle stands not atop it, but right below in 2nd place. It is the presentation for the 110- meter hurdles. The competitor who has barely defeated the Olympic champion spends all of his time training exclusively for the this event, while Sebrle must manage to excel in 10 events all the time. Such is the life of a world class Decathlete.
After graciously receiving a medal from the local organizers as well as a certificate and some small flowers, Sebrle steps down. A group of young kids quickly approach him asking for autographs and digital photos.
After spending some time with the youthful admirers, Sebrle grabs his bag and walks off. He knows that fiercer battles lie ahead.