He cycled 17,000 kilometres a year. “Now I drive this much in my car,” says Tomáš Bábek. The successful track cyclist retired from an active racing career and became a director in a manufacturing company. He came to discuss with young Czech athletes at the European Youth Olympic Festival in Maribor how to prepare for the transition from sport to the next career, how to cope with the demands of high-level competitive sport, how to face defeats or how to handle the first doping control.
In the morning he dealt with job-related tasks, then he got behind the wheel and went to Slovenia as an ambassador of the Czech Olympic Team. “I didn’t experience the Youth Olympic Festival myself. The atmosphere is great. It is a ticket to the Olympic world for young athletes. They can experience here on a smaller scale things that could surprise them at the Olympic Games and cause stress," said the Beijing 2008 and Tokyo 2020 Olympian and the winner of two medals from the World Championships.
He told the athletes about how training and living on the edge of his physical abilities led to him being hit by a car while running at night. He had to fight for his life, and he won. And he never accepted the prospect of not racing his bike anymore. “I am stubborn as a mule.”
He then described to his young followers the details that had brought him down and then led him to the greatest successes of his career. He talked about a challenging period of keirin racing in Japan and a dream that was not nearly as gratifying as he expected. He also added insights on topics which are new to young athletes, such as doping control or communication with journalists. And he described how his studies and ongoing work experience prepared him for the transition to a working life, where he succeeded was hired in an executive role right from the start.
“Tomáš's story is inspiring in every way. I believe that every young athlete will find something in it that will help them in their career. For the first time we prepared this type of meeting at the Winter Festival where we invited biathlete Lucie Charvátová, and we definitely want to continue this at other youth events, because it is a great opportunity to offer young athletes advice from those who have made it to the top, and not only in sport,” said the head of the delegation and two-time Olympic champion Martin Doktor.
In addition, the winner of the European Games went to watch the bike race. Bábek cheered the disappointed Lucie Grohová after she came in fourth, as he had experienced being fourth many times himself. And he loudly cheered for the winner, Kryštof Bažant, all the way to the finish line even during a live radio interview. “It was very special.”