By Joe Battaglia
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission
PRAGUE (04-Apr) - Like most rambunctious kids, Anežka Drahotová and her twin sister Eliška needed a way to burn off all of that excess energy.
While the siblings enjoyed playing soccer like their older brother as well as running, cycling and dancing, their parents decided more structure was needed and enrolled the two in the local athletics club.
It was there, in their town of Rumburk nestled in northern Bohemia that the girls, aged 12, were exposed to the sport that first captured their imaginations: race walking.
"When we first saw it we actually didn't like it," Drahotová recalled over a plate of dessert. "There were a couple of people at the club doing race walk and I thought, 'Why should I be doing this?' I didn't like the way it looked. But after a while, I grew to love the endurance of the sport."
That love of endurance has not only served to propel Drahotová to the top of a list of budding global racewalk stars but has spilled over and driven her to other disciplines as well.
The 18-year-old is also a sponsored international-level cyclist, placing 19th in the junior race at the 2013 UCI Road World Championships, and an accomplished runner. In 2012, she was seventh in the junior race at the World Mountain Running Championships . The following year, she won gold in the 10,000m racewalk (equaling the Czech national record of 1:29:05 set in 2005 by Barbora Dibelková) at the European Junior Championships and came back, quite unusually, to finish ninth in the 3000m steeplechase.
On Saturday, Drahotová will make her third foray into road racing as the youngest entrant in the women's elite field at the Sportisimo Prague Half-Marathon.
"I like race walking because it is what I am best at and a little bit easier to be the best in the world," Drahotová, who was seventh in the 20-K racewalk at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow," she said. "I have been to Russia twice and they have thousands of race walkers but it's not like Kenya and Ethiopia in the half-marathon and marathon. From time to time, though, I like my running because it is faster."
Like most first initiated to the racewalk, Drahotová found all of the awkward hip shaking and body motions to be a turnoff. But her coach, Ivo Piták, convinced the sisters to look deeper than appearances. In a matter of just three years, Drahotová was one of the best walkers in the country, winning seven domestic races between 3000m and 10-K in 2011.
"Having my sister there helped keep me in it for sure," she said. "But I really liked improving myself. This was very good for me."
That success caught the eye of Carlo Capalbo, president of the RunCzech organizing committee, who understandably questioned why the same wasn't being generated in running.
"Mr. Capalbo asked my coach, 'Why doesn't the Czech Republic have good runners for the marathon and half marathon?'" Drahotová said. "He asked specifically if he thought that Eliška and I could be good one day. My coach said, 'Why not? The girls are talented and I think one day they could run the half marathon and marathon with Kenyan runners.'"
Capalbo took a chance and offered the sisters facilities at which to train, running gear, and the all-important opportunity to run in the first wave of RunCzech's lineup of events.
Drahotová said she runs in about 20 races a year, mostly domestically, while also competing in about 12 cycling events to fulfill her sponsor obligations. She made her half-marathon debut in Prague in 2012, finishing 11th in 1:19:33. She improved that personal-best to 1:18:25 in a 15th-place finish in last year's race. On the track last outdoor season, she notched PRs of 4:24.89 for 1500m, 9:26.28 for 3000m, 16:47.24 for 5000m and 10:10.45 in the 3000m steeplechase.
Race walking, however, has remained the priority when it comes to her training.
"Race walking, running and cycling are all endurance disciplines, but most of my race walk training is actually done race walking," she said. "In the morning, maybe I will do 20-K of race walk then in the evening maybe I will do a small 8-K run.
"Cycling is hard on my body and I need to spend hours doing gymnastics to stretch out my muscles afterward. I do most of my running to recover my body. I don't have special training for running. When the day comes that if I decide to do running, I think I will train better."
Nevertheless, Drahotová's trifecta of athletic pursuits remains intertwined, and she is reaping the benefits off all of them.
On Saturday, she hopes to improve her half-marathon PR to 1:15 or faster. After that, she will take to her new bike for the Czech Cycling Cup. After that, it's off to Taicang, China for the IAAF World Race Walking Cup next month. She is also eyeing the podium in the 10,000m racewalk at the World Junior Championships in Eugene on July 23.
"I really want to medal," Drahotová said. "I know I train a lot and I have thrown all my life into the sport."
RESOURCE: The Sportisimo Prague Half-Marathon can be watched live internationally free of charge beginning at 6 a.m. ET at this link: http://public.pim.cz/RunCzech/