I vaguely remember when Peter Sagan became famous, and I remember hearing that he was from Slovakia. I have always had an allergy to all those Balkan and Eastern European countries. Once you leave Germany everything was very vague, and the Slavic countries were the vaguest.
Those “over there” countries included Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, not to mention Poland, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and of course Hungary, which is like Turkey in that you wonder, “Why did the Turks name their country after our Thanksgiving bird? And why did the Hungarians name their country after a ravenous feeling in the pit of the stomach?”
So I didn’t pay any attention to Slovakia, Peter Sagan’s native land, because, well, how can you pay attention to a country you can’t even find on the map?
How times change
Nowadays I’m very invested in Slovakia. Three days a week I sit down at my computer and take Slovak lessons with real, honest-to-goodness Slovaks in Slovakia speaking Slovak. In me they have found a butcher of the beautiful Slovak tongue. In them I have found out about Sagan. And one thing you learn pretty quickly is that Peter Sagan is a big deal in Slovakia along the lines of saying UY Scuti is a big deal in the constellation Scutum.
Slovakia has about 5.4 million people, roughly 40% of the population of the greater L.A. metro area, and is only about 20% larger in area. And unlike Los Angeles, which has a surfeit of famous athletes to spread around among those millions, Slovakia’s list of superstars is considerably shorter, and its only truly world-conquering athlete ever is Peter Sagan.
So it’s pretty easy to see how things like Sagan’s baby became a riveting national story. And being a student of Slovak, I now get a front row seat to the show.
Most charming athlete ever?
When you listen to Sagan speak, it’s a bit surprising. He has that Jack Nicklaus squeak, which always catches you off guard as you expect the vainquer of Roubaix, Flanders, and the Worlds to speak with a deep manly voice resonating testosterone and back hair.
And to his credit, his interviews in English are very good; I’m pretty sure the day will never come when I can answer a media scrum in fluent Slovak after a grueling, 7-hour Monument. But it’s still his second language, and a distant second.
When you watch him interviewed in Slovak, he impresses with his charm and his repartee. His facial expressions and his jokes transform his Slovak interviewers from fanboy journalists into slaveboys.
And a fan club? Of course!
But the best way to get a sense for Sagan is to visit YouTube and do a search for “Sagan rozhovor.” You’ll pull up a huge string of Slovak interviews. You may not understand them, but after a few minutes of watching him talk … you won’t need to.
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