(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images) 

 

Slivovitz, Halušky & the Hochschorners

By Brian Pinelli

 

They are the most dominant Olympians of the past 11 years that you know nothing about – fairly regular guys that have just managed to be far superior to everyone else in their sport of choice.

This past weekend in the Czech Republic, Pavol and Peter Hochschorner took to the murky waters on a channel of Prague’s Vltava River at the final International Canoe Federation World Cup of the season, perhaps looking down the river a bit toward potentially making Olympic history next summer in London.

Hailing from Bratislava, the Slovakian twin brothers have swiftly paddled their way to Olympic gold in the men’s doubles canoe slalom event, or ‘Canadian doubles’ as it is often referred, at the last three Summer Olympics.

Ever heard of these guys?

Hochschorner brothers on dry land. Photo by Brian Pinelli

It’s ok if you haven’t. Maybe you are not familiar with Slivovitz or Halušky either. All three are popular Slovakian favorites. More about the latter two later.

“Canoe slalom is a really good sport and everybody in Slovakia knows us because of all our medals,” says Pavol about life at home during an interview this past weekend in Prague.

“But we don’t have as much money as hockey or football players and we are not as popular as those guys,” he says.

Contributing to their mystique, the Hochschorners have never been beaten in an Olympic competition. Three games entered and three gold medals to show for their efforts. They are batting a thousand, or check that, paddling a thousand.

In the history of the Olympic Games, only seven athletes have managed to win four gold medals at four consecutive Olympics in the same event.

When they most likely (they still must officially qualify) dip their canoe into the swift currents at the Lee Valley Whitewater Centre next summer in Hertfordshire, about 30km north of central London, the Hochschorners will have a golden opportunity to join this elite club.

Not even the great Michael Phelps will have the chance to accomplish this feat in the London venue waters – and his water is even substantially less turbulent and temperature regulated. Ok, that’s not fair to Michael, but you get the point.

“They are legends, it’s absolutely amazing what they’ve been able to accomplish,” said Canadian kayaker John Hastings about the Hochschorners.

Peter and Pavol (or Paul as he likes to be called) have not only adroitly navigated the swirls, eddies and stoppers of demanding Olympic whitewater courses in Sydney, Athens, and Beijing, substantially faster than all challengers, but they are also five-time world champions and have a pair of bronze medals as well.

The Best In The World.

Peter with future champions, his niece and nephew. Photo by Brian Pinelli

At age 31 and not having a whole lot more to prove in their sport, the Hochschorner brothers show little sign of hanging up their boats.

“We will continue after London because it’s a good job and we don’t know what we’ll do in the future after we stop,” said Peter about their successful paddling partnership.

Pavol, who is slightly smaller in stature, mans the front of the boat, while Peter is the powerful engine at the back. Watching the synchronicity of the twins as they skillfully maneuver, while aggressively churning and snaking their way through hanging green and red gates, twisting, turning and ducking their torsos when necessary, doing so on fast-flowing whitewater courses is something to marvel at.

However, a trip to London is not a guarantee for the dynamic duo. IOC rules in Olympic canoe and kayak competition state that only one boat per nation per event can qualify.

And potentially standing in their way – or should we say kneeling in their way, as canoeists do – are their fellow Slovak compatriots and rivals the Skantar cousins, Ladislav and Peter.

The four proficient paddlers will surely wage another fierce battle at next month’s all-important whitewater slalom world championships taking place Sept. 6-11, in where else but Bratislava, Slovakia.

For Slovak whitewater slalom enthusiasts – and there are plenty – it doesn’t get much better than seeing the Hochschorner twins battling the Skantar cousins head-to-head in home water at what will be the next major step towards a ticket to London.

“It’s too early to start talking about the Olympics because the world championships in Bratislava are the most important race for us now and then maybe after that we can talk about the Olympics,” says Peter modestly.

“We must be fastest among the Slovak guys,” adds Pavol.

Attempting to put into perspective what this means to Slovak sports fans, let’s just say witnessing this highly anticipated showdown in Bratislava might be akin to American swimming diehards watching Phelps and Lochte match one another stroke-for-stroke in the 200 meter individual medley – slower of the two must watch next Summer’s Olympics from the couch.

He’s Not A Machine – He’s A Man!

Despite being the most decorated male athletes in the history of Olympic canoeing, the Hochschorners showed that they are human on Sunday while competing in the outskirts of historic Prague. Uncharacteristically, they were unable to cleanly make their way through tricky gate number 16 of 21 on the 280-meter long, eight-meter wide Troja course.

As a result, they failed to qualify for the afternoon final. In lieu of the surprising mishap, the brothers still garnered another season world cup title, having captured two of four events this summer.

Come London, these veteran tacticians of the river, who make their living in a canoe – great work if you can find it – are a serious threat to join Al Oerter, Carl Lewis, Lisa Leslie, Russian biathlete Alexander Tikhonov and three legendary Hungarian fencers, all of whom went four for four.

And in case you’re still wondering, homemade Slivovitz is a potent liquor – typically flavored with peaches or plums – cherished by Slovaks while Halušky is their tasty national dish of irregularly shaped small dumplings smothered in goats cheese and topped with bacon.  Just like the Hochschorners, both are very much an important part of Slovakian pride.

Reporting in Prague at the ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup

 

Based in Prague, Brian Pinelli is a writer, reporter and producer with extensive experience on the international sports scene. He has covered five Olympics and numerous World Championships, contributing to the International Herald Tribune, New York Times, Around the Rings, Universal Sports, FISAlpine.com, NBCOlympics.com, CBS Sports, Versus, Ski Racing and Ski & Board.

He is thoroughly enjoying the European culture living abroad, but misses the days of skiing epic powder in Utah!

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