Interview with Josef Capoušek
With the Olympics being held in Beijing, China strives for one color: Gold. In order to achieve victories in sports-disciplines the Chinese are not top of the class, they hire the best coaches of the world. Josef Capoušek took on the challenge with the canoeists.
EXPERIENCES IN SPORTS AND LIFE
Mr. Capoušek, as head coach of German Canoeing you were like a guarantee for gold. Now you train the Chinese canoeists. How did that happen ?
After all the years and the successes I found myself saying: Everything is running well, you can be satisfied. But then I got the offer of the Chinese to prepare their canoes for the Beijing Olympics. It filled me with pride, that a country like China - would pick me as head coach - with this spirit of optimism in sports and in business. This also implicated, to start moving again and to do something.
Your life is full of changes. For example, in 1968 you fled from Czechoslovakia to Germany.
I wanted to come here, but I could not speak German and had no money. So I cleaned toilets, towels changed, sold newspapers. I was a bricklayer, worked shifts on an assembly line. Later I was a photographer, and spent a week sleeping with tramps under a bridge in Paris and photographed the festival of Gypsy in the Camargue. These different jobs broadened my horizon, but there were also times when I just ate a bag of soup.
Do you think these experiences helped your work as manager of athletes ?
Yes. Especially when I watch other coaches who never did anything else in life than monitor training with a stopwatch in hand. Human knowledge is valuable - and I have never demanded more of someone else than of myself.
POLITICAL SYSTEMS AND CHANGES
Don't the limitations of the political system in China influence you (negatively), after you lived in a repressively run country ?
(Laughs). Now you talk like my ex-wife. When I decided on China, she said: "You're crazy. You ran away from Czechoslovakia, come to Germany and go back to a similar situation. Generally to much is expected of China than I think possible. Such a huge country cannot completely turn around politically from one day to the next.
Do you discover signs that things are slowly changing ?
I think the government is taking steps to move from communism to democracy, but the changes will take time. One can not introduce freedom of the press overnight. Undoubtedly there are intellectuals demanding more, but one should not forget that the majority of the population can not handle freedom and would be lost. Even today you sense the impact of democratization, with a society using their elbows. Therefore, the middle and older generation of Chinese mourns for Mao.
SPORTS SYSTEM IN CHINA
How is sports organized in China ?
Sports promotion mainly happens in the provinces. All athletes are employed by the provinces, and their teams compete at the National Games. If an athlete is successful or wins, like political employees they are rewarded with higher income and more money. The athletes will receive an award, an apartment and other rewards. Through this system, the provinces naturally have little interest to pass top athletes on to the national team. They prefer to keep them at home and to achieve success in the National Games.
How do you manage to set up a national team ?
With the Olympics around the corner now I have better cards as head coach. When I started, it was hard, the provinces did not want to let their athletes go. So I had to do a bit of politics. While diplomacy has never been my strong point, but with the experiences in China, I have learned a lot.