Interview with Marek and Petra Zeman: "We are more nervous than Kristýnka"
Kristýna Zemanová is the Czech Republic cyclocross champion, bronze medallist from the World and European Championships, and, above all, the Czech Republic's greatest hope for a medal. How do Kristýna's parents, Marek and Petra Zeman, perceive her successes? Who introduced her to cycling, and who competes with her in races? You'll find out in this interview with them, and Kristýna herself reveals some insights!
How has your approach changed since Kristýna reached this level?
Marek, father: The approach has certainly changed. Kristýna has been racing since childhood, and we were used to going to races, but those were children's races where we came to enjoy the afternoon without any preparation, often combined with a trip. It changed because now it's necessary to approach races really professionally. Everything needs to be planned – arriving at races on time, usually a day earlier to have time to ride the course, prepare the bikes, focus on recovery, eat, warm up. Additionally, we bring two bikes, a lot of equipment, and spare parts. Driving 1000 kilometers to Belgium, France, or the Netherlands without long-term planning and preparation is not possible.
Did you ever believe that Kristýna could belong to the world's elite and make a living from cycling?
Marek: When she was little, and we saw how much she loved cycling, how well she handled it, and how technically skilled she was, we thought there was definitely some potential in her. But after the European and World Championships in 2020, where she didn't perform well at all, struggled, and didn't enjoy cycling, we lost those illusions. It even reached a point where she wanted to quit racing, which fortunately didn't happen. That there would be such a shift that she could make a living from it, we probably didn't entirely believe. ¨
What do you say about her successes now?
Petra, mother: Of course, we are proud of her. It's admirable how she pursues her goal, how determined she is, doesn't forgive herself anything, approaches training really responsibly, and can truly push herself hard.
Who introduced her to cycling?
Marek: I introduced her to cycling. I also love cycling, but there isn't much time for it anymore. Petr Dlask introduced her to cyclocross; he was professionally racing at that time, and his daughter Vanda is Kristýna's friend. So, the girls rode together from an early age, and Petr took them to training in a small forest called Borek.
Was cycling her first choice of sport?
Marek: She is also a very good runner; she represented the elementary school in Kosmonosy several times in successful cross-country races, so we signed her up for athletics. Later, we learned about the formation of a children's cycling team led by Venca Ježek and Pepa Hladík, so she started cycling too. We were commuting from one training to another, which couldn't be done in the long run. We let her choose, and she chose cycling.
Were you ambitious parents, or did you not have to push her into training at all?
Petra: I am probably more ambitious than Marek, who approached it reasonably, slowly, wanting her to enjoy cycling, not rushing anywhere. Earlier, training was just a form of an excursion with some sweet reward at the end. In the later age, perhaps only during the crisis period she had, it was evident that she didn't feel like training. Otherwise, she always looked forward to training. Now it's more like Dad writing to her to come home from training.
Would you have imagined her in a different sport or study?
Petra: I would like her to attend university. One cannot make a living from cycling forever, and considering she studied at a grammar school, university is almost a necessity. But university can be studied at any age, and I believe she will manage to combine studying with cycling.
How would you characterize Kristýna? More of a calm person or a nervous one?
Petra: Rather calm, although we think there is definitely nervousness before the race, but she doesn't show it much. She gets nervous when things don't go as she would like, as they should be, or as she planned. That upsets her, she starts swearing, and she's upset.
According to you, what are the qualities that put her at the top of cyclocross?
Marek: Some have already been mentioned... she is very goal-oriented, stubborn, meticulous. What she plans in training, she must fulfil to the last detail. No excuses, no compromises, why not today. She says she rides in rain, wind, and claims she does it all the time in Belgium, so there are no excuses.
What brings Kiki the most joy outside of cycling?
Petra: Traveling, she loves the sea, sun, exploring new places, loves Šumava, likes going to the theatre, or really enjoys watching movies with Miloš Kopecký and good food. She likes to cook and bake by herself.
How do you perceive the atmosphere before the World Championships?
Marek: To be honest, we might be more nervous than she is. We are a bit worried that she might admit to herself that a medal is expected of her, that she might expose herself to pressure based on that. We know she is reasonable, always says it's a race like any other, she'll give her best, and if it doesn't work out, life goes on, it's just a sport. But otherwise, we are looking forward to Tábor; there is always an amazing atmosphere, and we hope it will be a successful, beautifully experienced day.
What does Mom take care of during the races, and what about Dad?
Kristýna: My dad mainly goes to races; my mom usually only goes to races in the Czech Republic. Still, we go together to the Christmas tour in Belgium. Then my mom works in the kitchen and is available at the start and finish, where warm clothing, drinks, etc., need to be provided after finishing. My dad has significantly more merit; he takes care of the bikes, acts as a mechanic in the pit, goes everywhere with me, even while working.
How would you characterize each other?
Marek: Petra never competed in a professional sport, but she has a very positive attitude toward sports. She likes to run, ski, ride a bike, walk in the mountains. What does she excel at? She excels at baking gingerbread, just that there is no interest in it at home anymore because Kristýna bakes it herself and doesn't let anyone into the kitchen much. Nevertheless, gingerbread was her thing from an early age; it had to be for breakfast before every race.
Petra: Marek is a passionate cyclist to this day; he also likes walking in the mountains, cycling, loves nature and mushroom picking. He likes planning vacations and everything related to it – choosing destinations, planning hiking routes, and places to visit. He also likes to cook a lot and does it well.
What were the reactions after winning the King of Cycling poll?
Petra: We were genuinely happy. We really wished her the victory, and we think she truly deserved it with her results over the past year. It's admirable what she achieved at the age of only 20, adding a victory in this poll to the bronze from the World Championships, European Championships, and national titles is truly a beautiful culmination of the past season.
Author: Tomáš Ježek