Olympic medallist and world champion in cross-country skiing Kateřina Neumannová (44) certainly hasn’t been bored after ending her career. She works at the Dukla Army Sports Centre, and when she’s not doing sports, she travels. “I’m not crazy to have to do sports all the time, but I will certainly never go on a vacation that means lying on a sunbed among tourists,” she says in our interview.
There is travelling and travelling. I love travelling, but on the other hand I spend a lot of time travelling even when I don’t want to. I spend many miles in the car because of my work, and it’s not always the most enjoyable. Several times a year I organise events for clients in Italy and Austria, and this is travelling that I do enjoy.
I grew up with sports in Šumava, so I have a bond with the area. Otherwise, I like to go to the northern parts of Italy, the Dolomites, and the Trentino region. I have close ties to it and I travel there in both summer and winter, privately and on business. It is a region where I’ve found everything I love – nature, good food, wine, an excellent atmosphere – so I visit it several times a year and I always look forward to it. I love winter, but the older I am the more I like warmth. Naturally, if it’s a gorgeous winter with powder, good snow conditions in the mountains, then it can’t be beat. On the contrary, I hate winter in the city, with no snow and that awful drizzly weather. When I travel in summer, I often bring along my bike, and I’ve become very fond of hiking in the mountains in recent years. I love the most difficult hikes in the Dolomites with stunning views – there are countless such places and relax in this way.
I do cross-country skiing in Šumava, so when I go to Italy I take the downhill skis. The slopes are on an entirely different level than ours at home. At weekends I go cross-country skiing in Šumava. All of Šumava is beautiful, it’s not far and I have a cottage in the area between Lipno and Zadov. Železná Ruda is also worth visiting. If I were to pinpoint one area, it would be Modrava, Kvilda, Knížecí pláň, the heart of Šumava that is closest and where I go most often to ski or bike.
I’m not crazy to have to do sports all the time, but I will certainly never go on a vacation that means lying on a sunbed among tourists. That’s not the type of vacation I look for. I like a vacation that is active half the day, biking or hiking, and the second half is spent swimming by the lake or pool. As for exotic regions, I used to go with my daughter even two years ago. Such holidays were combined with discovering new countries, but we’ve had to interrupt that now because she is playing tennis, which she devotes all her free time to. For instance, we’ve been to Costa Rica, a beautiful country that we travelled from the Atlantic to the Pacific. We have also been to Sri Lanka and Africa. If we do go on an exotic vacation, then definitely for discovery, travel, nature and we finish with two or three days by the sea.
I used to travel with my daughter, who now goes to warm destinations for tennis training camps, and I go to visit her. In the past two years we’ve been rather limited by the fact that she trains, so it’s usually associated with tennis, or we go to places where she can practice.
My daughter is of course better than me. I always liked watching tennis on television, it was one of my favourite sports as far as watching tournaments on TV goes, but I have never got that into it that much. I have a whole new view of this sport, I know it much better and I’m able to evaluate what the players are doing on the court.
I’ve always been individually focussed since childhood, but I always enjoyed having a group of people around the given sport. I’m not a loner and I enjoyed athlete friends, but I was able to train alone too. What I like about collective sports is the shared joy, which I have never experienced. I don’t avoid these sports – for instance beach volleyball with a group on vacation is great, but I’ve never done them seriously, just for fun. I’ve never done any collective sport on a competitive level.
I don’t know about tears, but I certainly get goose bumps. It was the most intense moment of my career and one that can’t be forgotten – on the contrary it’s just as alive now as it was right after the Olympics. It’s the greatest thing I’ve experienced in sports. On the other hand, one lives on, life changes and one doesn’t think back on it that often. Nevertheless, when I do remember the moment, it’s very intense and the feelings are the same.
Our family was always interested in sports, but not on a competitive level. Sports were always a normal thing, and it’s thanks to my parents and older brother that I started attending two clubs, skiing and canoeing. I had a tendency to copy the sports that my brother was into. He was eight years old and had far more experience in sports. Although we fought and argued a lot, my older brother was my role model. Our family’s style was to go to the mountains in winter and canoeing in summer. I am fond of sports because of my parents.
Any leisure time was spent with sports, but at least until the age of fifteen, school came first for me. In our family, education came before fun, and fun was sports. My hobby. It never occurred to me that it would become my livelihood. The backup plan was that I would continue going to school and I was preparing to attend university.
Initially, the motivation to attend university was because I needed it formally for my job. According to the rules, by job position required university, so I had to start studying not long after ending my career. I’m the type of person that doesn’t quit after starting something. I have to admit it was rather stressful at first. I’m the kind of person that does everything honestly and I can’t go to an exam in the hopes of fluking. I always went to exams know that I know the material, and nobody would fail me. I’ve always put high demands on myself. At the time I had a fairly small child and a lot of work. Later, you learn to manage as a student, you gain contacts, friends, and I gradually got into it and found things about studying that I really started enjoying. I even studied a field with which I partly associated my future, or rather current work on the Olympic committee, which is a dual career of athletes. Gradually, I found something that is very beneficial to me and expanded my horizons.
Once I had finished with sports, I had no need to remain in that world. I wanted to move in a different direction, start living a normal life. I travelled and lived out of a half-packed bag for twenty years. I wanted to leave this world, even though it was a great part of my life. If you become a coach, you remain a part of it. Lucka was another limitation. I am alone with her and taking care of her was my first priority. Hence, I could not have worked as a coach, because this work requires flexibility, travel and many days spent away from home. It is still the thing I understand best and I would like to pass on my experience to somebody who deserves it. For now I do consulting for a few people, but it doesn’t take up my time.
Certainly. Knowing that Lucka needs me at home, that she is growing up and that it would be inappropriate to drag her around the world with me, was one of the reasons. But I quit at the moment when I really wanted to quit. I felt that the cup was full, that I had enjoyed it, experienced the best years, I left at the very peak and it was beautiful. But I also felt that I no longer want to live this life. It was not difficult for me to leave. It was a voluntary departure from the sporting world. But finding a new life is difficult, of course. I had been living for sports and training since the age of fifteen, and I did almost nothing else. Then all of a sudden you have to start again, find new plans for life, new goals, a new meaning. So it is very difficult indeed and many athletes have a problem with it.
That happened during the period of the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2003. I won two silver medals at the time, but there were problems around doping. It disgusted ne, and suddenly I got the feeling that sport has nothing more to give and that going to training is like going to work. The joy, which is essential alongside the hard work involved in sports, was gone. If you don’t enjoy it and don’t enjoy the labour, it just doesn’t work. Luckily, the situation was solved by my pregnancy and the birth of Lucka. When I returned, I was full of enthusiasm and motivation, which I had been lacking after the Olympics in Salt Lake City.
I like good wine, but it’s more than just the glass or bottle on the table. I admire the art of winemaking. I like the idea that with a hand from people, nature can produce something as brilliant as wine. Not that I would want to prune the plants and drive a tractor or work in a vineyard, but I admire the process. I would definitely like to be an owner, but this isn’t to say that I understand it. I think I can recognise good wine from average or poor wine, but as far as varieties and cultivation go, I know very little of course.
I am very busy with Lucka right now. I would like to help her get to where she wants to go. I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work out but I would like to help her with securing it. Organisationally, financially and so on. It is really a kind of driver for me, to allow her to do what she wants to without worrying about the surrounding conditions. So basically I am sort of a manager for my own daughter.
When I was growing up it was an entirely different situation than the one Lucka is growing up in. I attended skiing and canoeing clubs in the small town of Písek, and my parents always created the right conditions when they could. They drove me there, when they could the bought me skis and my mother made me soup in a jar to warm up in the tent during races. It was a different time, but the sporting clubs were a nice thing. Lucka, well that’s an entirely different matter and it all depends on parental care. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get to experience what I did. My parents did well not to force me into anything and to create those conditions for me, but they weren’t thinking of raising me into a top athlete. Lucka has a different mind-set than I did. She has been growing up in the sports world since her birth. As soon as she was born, I started taken her to races and she has been familiar with major events like the Olympics and world championships since childhood. I grew up in a natural environment. She has been faced my major events since she was little, whereas I grew into them naturally.
Opinions vary. In my view as an amateur and person who has spoken to many experienced trainers, it becomes apparent between the ages of 14 and 16. At this age, children grow up and each at a different pace. Some are finished adults, in terms of strength and biology, at fourteen, while others are still children. This is Lucka’s case. When she matures, also in her mind which is a bit confused at this age, I think that around the age of 16 it will be possible to tell whether she has what it takes to be a top athlete.
It’s difficult. The sport she does requires a lot more time for training. She goes to school normally of course, and sometimes gets some exemptions for physical education. But she already knows a number of rivals who no longer go to school, or attend individually. I don’t want that. I want to keep her in school for as long as possible, because the possibility that she won’t make a living from sports is huge. Education is incredibly important and betting everything on sports is a big mistake.
She has good grades, with a better focus on social sciences. She likes English and languages, and plans to add Spanish during a foreign exchange trip. Her attitude towards school is that she has to be ready, but she doesn’t do more than she has to in certain subjects. She tends to give more to training. Jump-rope in the evenings, she really piles it on there.
Of course, women always find time for shopping. I try to limit this, naturally. She’d most like to go to Nike all the time to buy leisure sports shoes – there are never enough of those. She has a full closet of them. On the contrary, I hate spending free time at shopping centres.
I am irresponsible in this regard. Celebrations, family events, birthdays, I hate that kind of stuff so nobody really invites me anymore. Christmas is an exception, but those other occasions (I don’t want to say mandatory ones) are not my cup of tea. I much prefer the unplanned evenings and events where a great group of friends get together. I also like meeting up with my brother’s family, but aiming for a specific date because of a birthday, that’s not my thing.
I think it’s a combination of everything. Genes are definitely the most important factor. My mother looked great even at an advanced age, so I don’t have a tendency to gain weight. This is definitely a gift. It’s also a matter of lifestyle – I still try to do sports. I got used to a healthy lifestyle as an athlete, but most of all I avoid stress, I don’t guard myself and I eat whatever I feel like eating at the given moment. Fresh air and mental wellbeing is clearly reflected in each person. I’m not saying that I’m always happy, it’s always slightly better or worse, but in some sense one is reconciled with life, and this can be seen. And cosmetics are of course a complement to how we live. The most important thing is never to overdo anything.
In Šumava I would recommend the trails around Kvilda, Bučina, Modrava, Březník or Knížecí Pláně. Apart from the border areas, you can park, buy refreshments and adapt the trip to your mood and abilities. The trail to the source of the Vltava is my personal favourite. However, this is a trail for trained skiers and people used to longer excursions. Head towards Horská Kvilda, then on to Filipova Huť and Modrava. The trail is usually nicely groomed and pleasant. Have lunch in Modrava and then continue to Kvilda via Březník, Černá hora and the source of the Vltava. Once there, take off the skis for a while and visit the local bakery, which has fantastic bread and other treats. It’s about 10 kilometres to return to Zadov. In total the route is about thirty kilometres.
I also like going to the Krkonoše Mountains. I’m especially fond of Horní Mísečky and Špindlerův Mlýn, which always have perfectly groomed trails and the certainty of snow. You can combine cross-country with downhill, and the slopes are surely the best in the Czech Republic. I like the trail along the ridge of the Krkonoše Mountains. Head out directly from Špindlerův Mlýn – hardier skiers can go on their own legs along the Krkonoše highway to Dolská bouda hut, beginners can take a ride on the chairlift from Svatý Petr. From Klínová bouda hut, everybody simply follows the trail to Luční bouda hut. The lower quality of the trail on the windy ridge is compensated by stunning views across the mountains. From Luční bouda hut you continue to Špindlerovka hut and then descend back to Špindlerův Mlýn.
There is less certainty of snow, but many lovely trails in the area of Nové Město na Moravě. Both less experienced skiers and experts will find their own, and everybody is sure to enjoy the stunning nature. There is a climb of about 200 metres on the Studnický circuit trail. It is eighteen kilometres long and leads from Nové Město via Studnice and back. Prepare for an ascent on the first two kilometres, but from the middle of the route you can look forward to gradual descents. Refreshments are available in Maršovice, for instance.
Those who especially like cross-country skiing and would like to try the terrain abroad, I recommend driving the Ramsau, Austria, beneath the Dachstein glacier. I personally love going to Trentino in Italy, the Val di Fiemme resort in the Dolomites. There is gorgeous and pleasant skiing both for downhill and cross-country, good food and wine, affordable prices and friendly people. I never miss out on the route of the traditional Marcialonga race.
Olympijská medailistka, mistryně světa v běhu na lyžích Kateřina Neumannová (44) se po ukončení kariéry rozhodně nenudí. Pracuje v Armádním sportovním centru Dukla, a když nesportuje, cestuje. „Nejsem blázen, který by musel pořád sportovat, ale určitě nikdy nepojedu na dovolenou si lehnout na lehátko mezi turisty,“ řekla v rozhovoru.