Martina Sáblíková: I turn the warm ventilation on my feet

Martina Sáblíková: I turn the warm ventilation on my feet

Her health problems did not stop her from setting two world records. Martina Sáblíková, a speed-skater, multiple Olympic medallist and a world champion is also a successful cyclist and ŠKODA brand ambassador. In a ŠKODA Storyboard interview, she told us how she celebrates her successes and what kind of a driver she is.

11. 2. 2020 Lifestyle PEOPLE

Do you sing or listen to the radio?
Usually I listen to something from my phone using Bluetooth, or to the radio. My car is the only place I sing. I play the radio really loud so that I can’t hear myself and feel like I sound like the original.

Who did you sing along with last time?
Well, I am not picky when it comes to genres. I like melodic songs, usually Czech ones. Last time I was singing along with Lucie Vondrackova’s Hej Lasko Velka song.

Do you eat in your car?
I guess I shouldn’t, but I do.

What is your favourite thing to eat?
Well, whatever is at hand, really. Usually a bar or something that does not prevent me from keeping an eye on the road. I always have some sweets or lollipops in the car. When I get out of the car, I need to shake off all the crumbs.

When there is someone else in the car, do you let them drive?
Before my back problems, I wouldn’t let anyone behind the wheel. Driving is my passion. For me, driving alone is a way of relaxing. But these days, I do switch seats with people.

Some people really hate the passenger seat. Are you one of them?
It depends on who I’m riding with. But usually I travel with my team and I trust them. I have no problem falling asleep in the passenger seat.

Did you get your driving licence when you turned 18?
Actually, when I turned 19. At the age of 18, I was getting ready for the Olympic games so I only got my driving licence the year after.

At the first go?
Yes. But I was really stressed out, as I usually am. Back then, the tests weren’t taken electronically. After taking the test, I went to my grandmother and told her I was sure I failed. But it turned out that I didn’t, so everything was fine.

Did you start driving right away?
Yes. I even went to get my first car a week before my licence was issued, so my dad had to accompany me.

Do you get angry behind the wheel?
When I’m in a hurry and need to, for example, catch a flight, then it’s really unpleasant to get stuck somewhere. But there’s nothing you can do about it. Accidents happen. However, I do notice when someone doesn’t merge properly or turn on the blinker. Or, if someone starts overtaking dangerously before the horizon, I immediately slow down, because I can see the driver can’t safely merge back into his lane. It’s pretty clear that if a car appears on the other side of the road, the clash will get ugly. That’s when I swear. But otherwise, no, I don’t really get angry.


Do you have any driving-related dreams?
Now it’s more about getting to places I would like to see. I love countryside, for instance in Switzerland. For me, it is closely connected to cycling. I love to ride uphill and see the skylines opening. The best thing is driving somewhere and then hopping on a bicycle to ride around the place.

Road or mountain bike?
That depends. We go to train in South Tyrol, where I mostly ride the mountain bike. But the road bike is great for zipping.

How about an e-bike, would you like to get one?
No, not yet. At the moment I don’t need it as I’m able to ride anywhere. But it’s great for older people. It allows them to see places they would normally not be able to reach.

What about electric cars?
I haven’t thought about getting one yet. I like that they are silent and great for the environment. I have ridden in one but haven’t driven it. For now, I can’t tell you anything more about it. I’m looking forward to driving one sometime.

Now you drive the ŠKODA KODIAQ, a car that is also great on all types of terrain. Do you drive it in off-road conditions?
In the summer I train in the Alps where I climb up to the altitude of 2,500 metres on my bicycle. I never had any trouble with my car over there. The only problem I have ever come across was when martens bit through our cables.

Martina SáblíkováMartina goes to the mountain tops in ŠKODA KODIAQ.

Martina SáblíkováMartina Sáblíková (left) with her colleague Nikola Zdráhalová

Do you have a favourite assistance system you like to use in the car?
I like the Blind Spot Detect system. That was the first thing I was looking for when I got my car. I am the kind of driver who mostly drives without assistance but when I go somewhere far, I like the fact that the car is able to stay in its lane on its own. It makes me more confident.

What do you carry in your car?
I need a lot of space because usually I ride with Niki Zdráhalová, my colleague. Last time we took two travel bags, two backpacks, two suitcases with clothes, ski-tuning tables, bags with skates, gym stuff and three bicycles. It all fit in one KODIAQ.

Don’t you put your bicycles on the roof rack?
Nope, everything goes inside the car.

You are a very successful cyclist as well. Would you be interested in joining a race such as L’Etape du Tour de France?
I love those races so much! I wanted to go to the Tour but I couldn’t make it, which I’m truly sorry about. When there’s a race on I am always glued to the TV screen. What often happens is that when it finally comes to the mountain stage, I have to run off to my practice, which is really disappointing.

Did someone drive you to practices when you were a child?
I did spend a lot of time in the car, almost always headed abroad. My parents only drove me to a natural ice lane at Svratka river.

There is a huge difference between cars then and now. Did your ice-skating gear also go through such big technical progress?
One thing is the skates. They used to come in one piece and now they come with a removable heel. Further, they used to be made of leather, now they are made of carbon. These are the most significant changes. The overalls went through a bit of a transformation as well. They used to be made of regular fabric, but now they come in a tightening material which sometimes makes it hard to get into them.

How long does it take to get ready in the dressing room and head off to the ice?
About ten minutes. I have to change completely. I put on the overall and add zippers, which I only take off right before the start. Then comes the jackets, cap, neck warmer… It depends on the temperature. Then I tie the skates. Sometimes, from all the jitters, I accidentally snap a lace.

It is well known that speed-skating hurts. It’s a lot about overcoming yourself. What motivates you to keep going on?
I started skating when I was 11, so for me, it’s labour of love. That’s the greatest motivation. I love to move around the ice as much as I love the people around me. Right now, I cannot imagine my life without it.

What hurts the most?
Thighs, back, bottom and sometimes my shins. It’s because you are in a knee bend all the time.

Can the body of a professional get used to the constant changing from cold to warm?
I still struggle with that. Especially when we ice-skate outside. Around New Year’s Eve we usually go to Italy, where it’s typically about -4 °C but sometimes it gets to -20 °C. After coming back into the warmth, my legs and arms hurt terribly.

When you come back to your car after practice, do you turn on the heat?
When I get into a frozen car, then I do. But everything in moderation, as I always say. I usually turn the warm ventilation on my feet because they’re completely frozen from ice-skating. So I heat the car up to about 24 °C and then turn the heating down.


Have your practice methods changed during your career?
No, my practice basically hasn’t changed. Recently I’ve been checking my practice records. The biggest change is that we added gym practice. I have a physiotherapist who’s also my muscle condition coach. Given that we haven’t really changed anything, my results last year really surprised me.

Do you have one favourite pair of skates or do you use several?
I only use one pair, and for the fifth season! I have a second pair, which is newer, but I only keep them in my backpack. They should be identical, as they are cast on my feet. But they aren’t that soft and my feet hurt when I’m wearing them. I only bring them as a spare.

You have succeeded in many Olympics. What are your memories from each of the games?
I still play it over and over in my head. Torino: the first Olympics and a fourth place that I cried about. Vancouver: the gold medal and a dream come true. I remember the policemen driving me in their car across the city to make it to the winners’ announcement after a doping inspection. We drove with the sirens on and still managed to stop for an ice-cream. That was the greatest experience of the whole games. In Sochi I was really emotional because it was my first Olympics with both my parents and grandparents present. That was beautiful and I managed to steal the gold. After my back injury, the PyeongChang Olympics brought home the silver. But for me, it represented winning over my own self, so I was absolutely happy.

Do you have any special celebration ritual after a successful race?
Usually I am so tired that I’m happy if I can simply go to bed. Often there is a banquet where I have a glass of red wine which makes me terribly sleepy. I think my team can celebrate for me.

You have won almost everything possible. What are your next goals?
After the issues with my back that I dealt with two years ago, it is hard for me to plan ahead. You never know what’s coming. That’s why I was so surprised with last season, when I set two world records. I did not expect that I would ever be able to go that fast. So it’s hard to tell. I would love to go to one more Olympics and fight for the gold. But, you know, life is a rollercoaster. We’ll see what happens next.


Martina Sáblíková (32) is a Czech speed-skater who specializes in long tracks: 3,000 and 5,000 meters. She’s a six-time Olympics medallist, multiple world champion and a multiple world record-breaker. As the training conditions in Czechia are not ideal, she spends most of her life abroad. When she gets back home to Prague, there is a lot of buzz around her. She might seem a bit quiet, but when you get to talk to her, you realise Martina has an open, funny and relaxed personality. She tells us how her parents used to drive her to practice, how she celebrated her Olympic medals and about her driving experience. She has even tried driving on the racing circuit and admitted she once rode at a speed of 295 kilometres per hour on a German highway.