Romani hockey player Dominik Lakatoš: My Dad is my biggest hero
Ice hockey forward Dominik Lakatoš was born in 1997. He is the first Romani player ever to play professional hockey in the Czech Republic.
Since the age of 12 he has played for the "White Tigers" (Bílí Tygři) club in Liberec, and since last year he has played in the Czech Extraliga, the highest-level ice hockey league in the country. He has been named Rookie of the Season and Junior Player of the Year for his performance to date.
Lakatoš was born in Kolín to a Czech-Roma family and has one sibling. He lives in Liberec.
We met Dominik Lakatoš right at the skating rink of Liberec's Tipsort Arena. He had just come from the gym, satisfied after a victorious game against Plzeň from the previous day.
"I've given lots of interviews, I just keep saying the same thing over and over," he confides with a smile that doesn't leave his face the whole time we talk. Despite his youth, he gives the impression of a calm, sober guy who focuses all of the energy that he radiates on the main purpose of his life, his beloved hockey.
I attempt to ask him questions about something besides sports, but I see that he doesn't really want to discuss social issues. He is also not much interested in any complications about ethnic identity.
This is not surprising - when I think about it, I realize that an athlete like him spends most of his life in a kind of social bubble that primarily depends on his performance, where he doesn't have to deal with his ethnicity much. Despite the fact that Dominik does not in the slightest deny that he is Romani, he doesn't want to talk about it - but his eyes especially light up when he is talking about sports.
Q: What are your expectations this seasons after last year's championships? You won in the Extraliga and the team did exceptionally well. At the same time you won Rookie of the Year. What are you expecting of yourself now?
A: Naturally we all have the highest expectations of ourselves, always. Luck is fickle, but last year we scored big, in fact, and understandably the entire team hopes we will repeat that this year. For myself, my main wish is that I will finally manage to score a goal, because no matter how much I try, I haven't succeeded yet this year.
Q: In the career of a top athlete the maximum involvement and support of the entire family always plays an important role. How does it work in your family?
A: My grandpa led me to sports, and then naturally the entire family got involved. I am really grateful to them, they have done all they could for me. Since I was young they accompanied me to all my trainings and supported me, both Mom and Dad. My sister had to adjust her plans because of me - now she's studying, but sometimes she still comes to my games. I came to Liberec at the age of 12, but our folks are originally from Kolín. Despite that, they still come to my games to this day, wherever they are, and when I have a game here they stay at my house.
Q: There is a lot of discussion in sports about the ratio between, on the one hand, the everyday grind, diligence, drill, and then talent on the other hand. What has that been like in your case? Do you believe that both are equally important?
A: I know this from various cases around me - people who have attempted to "break through" just by training and sheer will. However, if you're not a good ice skater to begin with, it's clear that you while you may plod along with all your might, you will probably never be a top hockey player. I can just tell you what there is to expect: Regular training, not just on the ice, but also in the gym, is very important, and you also need to have a relationship with the sport, as well as some talent. You have to love it. I'm on the ice every day, including weekends. I only take a "day off" in exceptional circumstances.
Q: When you were a child they reportedly put a ball and a hockey-stick in front of you and let you choose. Do you ever regret choosing to play hockey in particular? Have you ever thought about what you might have done if you weren't making your living through hockey?
A: I have never regretted it, it's my entire life. As a little schoolkid I used to sit right here, where we're holding this interview now, I'd be here as a fan, sitting in the corner. I cannot imagine doing anything else, and my Dad even laughs at me - I don't even know how to hold a shovel, I could never make a living as a laborer. [laughs] I just live hockey.
Q: In some of your previous interviews people have asked you about your Romani ethnicity. Did you hear people speaking Romanes in your family? You have an "Olah" surmame - does anybody in your family speak any of those dialects?
A: To be honest I don't care much about all that. I am actually just focused on hockey. I know my Dad knew how to speak Romanes, but I don't know if it was Olah Romanes or a different dialect, because he never spoke it with us children. I did not grow up among Romani people.
Q: For many Romani people you might be a role model today, as a rising sports star. Did you yourself ever have a Romani role model like that?
A: Unfortunately, I must admit that I don't know many of the Romani athlentes. I know they are successful in boxing, for example, but I've never taken a specific interest in it. However, as far as Romani role models go, I don't know if it's appropriate to say it here, but my Dad was always an enormous role model for me. Of the non-Romani athletes, naturally [Czech hockey player] Jaromír Jágr is a role model.
Q: You're probably at the beginning of a brilliant career. Are you thinking about playing abroad, for example, in the National Hockey League (NHL)? Are you learning any languages especially for that?
A: At all of the schools I went to I did English, but what is there to say - you know what the level of instruction is so often like here. For the time being I have acquired just the absolute basics for the most important interactions. Now, however, I'm working on my English more, I'm taking classes, and I hope I will learn it properly. Naturally I would like to play in the NHL. [laughs]
Q: Do you also have time for a private life, given that you are so busy? How do you usually relax?
A: I go to the gym, I used to do martial arts too. Otherwise, if I happen to have a free day, I just don't do anything at all. That, for me, is an absolute luxury. That means I'm at home on Playstation, maybe. Then sometimes I hear the voice from the next room say: "Jesus, are you playing that again?!" I have a girlfriend who fortunately has grown accustomed to my hectic tempo, or to be more precise, she doesn't have a choice. We have a little dog together and taking care of it takes up a surprising amount of time. [laughs]
Q: Has the fame connected with your success also brought you any negative reactions? Do people around you envy you?
A: I do my best to put all of that out of my mind. Yes, certainly, a couple of people have turned up who probably have their own issues to resolve, but fortunately that all plays itself out behind my back. I don't have a lot of direct experience with reactions of that kind and I wouldn't even care. However, it's decidedly not the case that I'm being flooded with revolting e-mails or messages, nothing like that.
Q: In sports there are all kinds of favorite mascots, rituals, supersitions. Do you have something like that?
A: Naturally I have my things I say to myself before a game, for example. However, I have never told anybody what they are, and I am superstitious, so I believe they should not be revealed so they won't be "jinxed". I do believe those things work, but I don't have a mascot. I wear one chain around my neck, from my Dad, that I never, ever take off, not even during games. Plus I have my tattooes, which are of personal significance to me. I have several on my arms and one on my leg.
Q: Do you believe that public figures should express their views, for example, about political events? Are you aware that you might be able to influence young people who look up to you by taking a position on an issue?
A: Those things are unfortunately beyond me. I don't take much interest in politics, I just notice something from time to time, but I don't feel knowledgeable enough to comment. I believe people should talk about these things who understand them, the leaders, the political leadership. It would not be pleasant for me if I were to say something stupid about something I don't really understand. I'm a person who focuses on his own stuff first and foremost, and in my case, that's hockey.
Q: So you may have not even noticed the recent case with [Deputy Prime] Minister Babiš, who was visiting Romani people in Varnsdorf and said the former concentration camp for Romani people at Lety by Písek was actually a labor camp for people who didn't want to work?
A: No, I haven't heard of that. However, whatever I personally might think of his remark, he has the right to his opinion.
Q: Are you cultivating an "incubator" of young talent here in Liberec? Is there something like a sports academy here?
A: There's a primary school right next door to us that we collaborate with. It's great, the young boys who play for the White Tigers don't have to travel far to practice. The school is directly focused on figure skating and ice hockey. As far as I know, the boys have a special schedule and are supported overall - the teachers there collaborate with our trainers.
To see photographs from this interview, follow the Facebook page of Romano voďi magazine. The full interview (in Czech only is available in the print version of the September 2016 issue and can be ordered online at www.romanovodi.cz.
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