Jiří Raška, Czech ski jumper, Olympic gold medalist (1968), died from heart disease he was 70
(Czech pronunciation: [ˈjɪr̝iː ˈraʃka]; February 4, 1941 – January 20, 2012)
He was born in Frenštát pod Radhoštěm in 1941. His father died of leukaemia
when Jiří Raška was nine years old, leaving his mother to raise four
children on her own. His interest in winter sports was not surprising.
His cousin and uncle, both active jumpers, took him as their disciple. “We were saying that children in Frenštát are born with skis on their feet,” Raška said in the interview for Czech newspaper Lidové noviny. Raška was however also active in other sports, like football, cycling and handball.
Introduction to ski jumping
As a young jumper he got into coach Zdeněk Remsa‘s legendary group, the “Remsa Boys”. When military service on Šumava threatened Raška’s budding career, Remsa arranged his entrance into the military sports club Dukla Liberec. In 1964 he travelled to the Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck as a substitute. There he watched Josef Matouš,
who led after the first round and had an opportunity to become the
second Czech Winter Olympic medalist, but ended up without a medal. Four
years later, Raška was in a similar situation.
Thanks to the fourth place in the 1966 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships and a second place in the Four Hills Tournament, he travelled to the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble
as one of the favourites. Raška himself was hoping to take the fifth
place and would not have been disappointed with the tenth place. Czech
writer Ota Pavel described his first jump in the normal hill event: “It
was a beautiful flight in the infinite silence, that took short human
age. Painter and editor Ota Mašek nearly fainted, photographer Jarda
Skála stopped photographing. Coach Remsa was washing his face with snow
and squeaking Norwegian Wirkola stopped squeaking.” Raška jumped 79 metres, which was less than Austrian Baldur Preiml,
but thanks to better style he led after the first round. In the second
jump he did not fare well, reaching only 72.5 meters, but he went on to
victory. Jiří Raška became the first Czech winner in the Winter
Olympics. He added the silver medal in the large hill event, beaten only
by Vladimir Beloussov of the Soviet Union.
That year he managed to win six races in a row. At the 1970 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Vysoké Tatry,
over a hundred thousand visitors came to see him jump. He finished
second in the large hill event and eighth in the normal hill event.
In 1969 he became a world record holder for only one day. At the new ramp in Planica he jumped 164 meters, four meters more than was the day old record of his rival Bjørn Wirkola of Norway. However, the following day his record was broken by Manfred Wolf (165 m) from East Germany. Raška’s other successes included a silver medal at the World Championships in the large hill in 1970, victory in the Four Hills Tournament the year after, bronze in the historically first Ski-flying World Championships, and fifth place in the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo.
In 1974 he became a coach but continued with active jumping. “I decided to end immediately as the first junior beats me,” he said to the Hospodářské noviny (Czech newspaper) . Thus he ended his competition career in 1976 after being defeated by František Novák.
Between 1994 and 1996 he was together with Medal and later on Malec coach of the Czech representation.
During the 1990s he was also a coach of the Czech junior representation
and vice-chair of the Czech Ski Union. In the Union’s poll he was
elected as a Czech skier of the century.
He died in 2012 in Nový Jičín.
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