David Koczkas

Every four years a spectacle of speed, power and endurance brings (not only) the sporting world together in a celebration of athleticism, passion, faith and sportsmanship. With billions of people watching on their TV screens, millions at the stadiums, competing at the Olympics is the height of every athlete’s career. A lifelong achievement, born out of determination, effort and dedication. Being able to run, paddle or swim under the five rings is a reward for the hard work that starts years or even decades before the starting pistol goes off. This story looks at precisely that phase of Olympic preparations –  before the stage is set and the heroes ready. For it to have even a slight chance of being realised, an aspiration to compete at such high level needs to be clear well before a prospective Olympian enters their teens. This was the case with David Koczkas, born in the year 2000 in Komarno, a city of 30,000 in southern Slovakia. Perhaps owing to the city’s strong water-sports tradition, as the local canoe club raised multiple World Champions and Olympic medallists, David started to compete when he was just nine. What started as a standard pastime that almost every school child has, quickly evolved into a serious commitment to a life between a race-track and a gym. For the past six years, David has become the National Champion of Slovakia in various canoe sprint disciplines 21 times, and thus has established himself as one of the country’s biggest Olympic hopefuls.

Competing at the absolute highest level in sports requires uncompromising commitment to a particular lifestyle that dictates what the prospective Olympian must and must not do. This includes prioritising hours of everyday practice, adhering to vigorous workout schemes, following special diets, sticking to a rigid sleep cycle, and a plethora of other, equally important factors. As athletes in different sports peak in different times, it is difficult to pinpoint a time in their life when they start physical preparation specifically with the intention of winning an Olympic medal. Even with more than four years to go, David works out every day. Most of the time with his friend, and sometimes his rival, Richard Zilizi. Meeting in their local canoe club, 3 o’clock is the training time for the duo. Regardless of weather conditions, holidays or pressure from other commitments, such as school. Besides being an Olympic hopeful, David is also a first-year secondary school student. This means that in order to balance school work with athletic career commitments, he had to sacrifice all his free time. For this reason, mental preparation and acquiring the right mindset always starts early in their career. David appears to be in a phase where he can already see the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo as a specific long-term goal. Actively pursuing something that is almost half-a-decade away is difficult for a person in their early-to-mid teens. And it is the fixation on the specific and concrete Olympic event in August 2020 what keeps the canoe super-talent going.

Crucial in both physical preparation on the race course and mental preparation back home is David’s father Oliver. A retired sprint canoeist, Oliver has got much to contribute to David’s athletic growth. Having gone through a similar experience of aspiring to compete at the biggest sporting event in the world, Oliver is David’s go-to person both on and off the race course. Rick Macci, a legendary tennis coach who scouted the Williams sisters, Jennifer Capriati, or Andy Roddick, says that parental involvement is absolutely crucial. Behind every kid that goes into greatness, there must be a parent that’s plugged in. And in David’s case, there is.

The photo essay attempts to provide a peek into David’s daily life. By showing the aforementioned aspects of his life – the training routine, participation at smaller-scale events, him enjoying a precious time off, or his relationship with his father, it explores topics of aspirations, single-mindedness, passion and determination. David is all that – aspirational, single-minded, passionate and determined. He is on the right track to become a great champion, and the aim of this work is to show why.