Sablikova speeds to Olympic titles and into the Czech history books
When Martina Sablikova pulled on her first pair of roller blades at the age of 11, little did she know the journey she was embarking on. One that would see her crowned Olympic speed-skating champion on three occasions, to become the most successful Olympian from the Czech Republic.
Not only that, Sablikova would also become a world-class cyclist, excelling in the saddle after her coach Petr Novak added cycling to her training regime when access to indoor skating rinks was restricted in the off-season. Now 31, the Czech woman is still at the peak of her sport, setting new world records over 3,000m and 5,000m in March 2019, giving her a clean sweep up to 10,000m.
Sablikova is the subject of an episode of the Olympic Channel’s Before They Were Superstars, in which, at the age of 19 in September 2006, she outlined her hopes for the future, months after finishing fourth in the 5,000m at the Olympic Winter Games Turin 2006.
Sablikova was born in Nove Mesto na Morave on 27 May 1987 and grew up playing basketball before she started skating, which she took to like a natural.
Coach Petr Novak said: “She is highly competitive and wins all the time. Her ambitious nature convinced me that Martina had the potential to go on and achieve results at international level, maybe even at the Olympics.”
She rose through the ranks, winning the first of her three national junior titles in 1999; and by 2005 she was a world junior record-holder in the 3,000m. After claiming her first European medals she set her sights on Turin 2006, where she exceeded her goal of making the top eight by finishing fourth in the 5,000m – so near and yet so far, although Sablikova was philosophical.
She said: “I also wanted to fulfil my coach’s wishes. He had said if you make it into the top eight then you have a chance to win a medal. It’s a shame I couldn’t quite manage it, but to finish fourth at the Olympics was fantastic.”
In the off-season, Novak added cycling and roller blading to the training regime and again Sablikova thrived, winning national road time trial titles on two wheels as well as competing on the world stage, although her dream of competing at the Olympic Games never quite materialised.
By 2010, Sablikova had risen to the top of her sport with world and European titles, and she arrived in Vancouver as the red-hot favourite. She did not disappoint, and claimed gold in the 3,000m and 5,000m as well as bronze in the 1,500m.
On to Sochi four years later, and Sablikova successfully defended her 5,000m title as well as taking silver over 3,000m, to eclipse javelin thrower Jan Železný as the Czech Republic’s most decorated Olympian.
A back injury hindered her preparation for PyeongChang 2018 although she still managed to compete, taking silver in the 5,000m.
There is no sign of any let-up from Sablikova in 2019, with new world records over 3,000m and 5,000m in Calgary, Canada, in March, before she lowered the latter record again less than a week later at the World Cup final in Salt Lake City, USA.