Olympic champion – Lukas Krpalek won every major honor on offer in judo's 90-100kg category... Now he's stepped up to the heavyweight division.
Rio 2016 Olympics – "My three biggest results are gold from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the 2014 World title in Chelyabinsk and the 2013 European Championship title in Budapest," Krpalek tells CNN.
Junior World Championships 2008 – Incredibly, the Czech Republic's first ever Olympic judo champion only took up the sport by chance -- initially presuming the martial arts lessons he was receiving as a child were karate.
Junior European Championships 2008 – "My brother and I kept going for about a month until we found out that it wasn't karate, but judo," he laughs. "My uncle got the time wrong! Thank God he made that mistake."
Tokyo 2010 World Championships – Krpalek could also have grown up to be an ice hockey player, had things worked out differently. "As a little boy I would spend crazy amounts of time on the ice," he smiles. "Whenever the pond froze over in winter, we would go out with the boys. After school, I always dropped my backpack, picked up my skates, hockey stick, and ran to the pond. It was something wonderful."
Paris 2011 World Championships – Krpalek's family didn't have enough money to fund his ice hockey dream, but the Czech continued honing his skills on the tatami. And in 2011, he won bronze at the Paris World Championships -- his country's first medal of any color at that level since its declaration of independence.
Budapest 2013 European Championships – Of all the prestigious medals Krpalek has won, he says it was a 2006 European Cadets Championship silver that gave him cause to believe he could reach the upper echelons of the sport. Seven years later in Budapest, he won the senior European title.
Paris Grand Slam 2013 – Further medals followed in quick succession, from the Paris Grand Slam in front of a partisan French crowd...
Tokyo Grand Slam 2013 – ...To the Tokyo Grand Slam, secured in the birthplace of the sport.
Chelyabinsk 2014 World Championships – In 2014, Krpalek became world champion in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk.
Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony – Everything pointed towards the Rio 2016 Olympics, where Krpalek had the honor of being his country's flagbearer. "It was a huge honor for me, but on the other hand it was a huge commitment to carry the flag," he says, noting "suddenly here in Czechia everyone was interested in how I'd fight and what I'd show."
Rio 2016 Olympics – He certainly lived up to the billing, defeating Azerbaijani Elmar Gasimov by ippon for gold in the final. "This was the most beautiful moment in the whole of my sports career," says Krpalek. "I must say that it took me a really long time to realize that I actually succeeded, that I had been able to go through the tournament as the winner."
Rio 2016 Olympics – Just months before the Games begun, Krpalek's teammate Alexandr Jurečka died in a diving accident aged 24. Rocked by the death of one of his closest friends, Krpalek had vowed to fight in Jurečka's honor. "Anytime anyone needed help, he was the first one who came," said Krpalek, later holding up a picture of his departed compatriot on the podium. "We will try to achieve the goals which you always wanted to reach, but destiny did not allow you."
Tokyo Grand Slam 2017 – No sooner had Krpalek won Olympic gold than he was plotting his next move: a tilt at the heavyweight (100kg+) titles, and an inevitable showdown with ten-time world champion Teddy Riner. At the 2017 Tokyo Grand Slam, Krpalek won silver in Riner's absence.
Tokyo Grand Slam 2017 – The Czech was eventually beaten by home favorite Yusei Ogawa -- but only after a whopping 14 minutes of golden score. "It was my first competition in a long time since injury," says Krpalek. "Of course I regret I couldn't pull off victory having been out there for so long, but it's sport. You win some, you lose some."
Paris Grand Slam 2018 – The 27-year-old earned bronze against the sport's heaviest men in the first major tournament of 2018, but wants to show more ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Games. "I definitely don't want these medals to be my last," Krpalek says. "I'd like to try and keep fighting for as long as possible.