A top swimmer on life “outside of the pool”

Wednesday, 20 October 2021 14:36

Charles University student Ondřej Gemov spends a lot of time in the pool: “I haven’t left the water since I was six months old,” he jokes. Recent years have seen him clinch medals and spots on the podium. At 22, Gemov is one of the Czech Republic’s most promising swimming talents. When he has time, he follows fashion and Czech rap.


“My mum took me to the pool for the first time when I was six months old. I learned to swim in those courses until I was four, then began to swim on my own in the big pool and joined a swimming club at age six. That’s when I first began to compete,” says Ondřej. Laughing, he adds “I basically haven’t gotten out of the water since.”


From the age of nine, the swimmer began regularly bringing home medals from swim meets, and while he tried other sports, ultimately, he had to decide which he liked best.

“I tried modern pentathlon and athletics, but from around 13 or 14 my training was taking up too much of my time and I had to choose one.” His parents had competed in athletics, but Ondřej decided that swimming was the sport for him.

It’s good that he did: since, he has clinched several national championship titles and performed brilliantly at the Czech Academic games earlier this year, where he represented Charles University and won three races and finished second in the fourth. He competed at the junior championships, and among the seniors at the 2019 and 2021 European Championships.

At 22, Ondřej Gemov is a rising star in the pool. His interests outside of sports include fashion and Czech rap.

Sharp dresser

Out of water, the swimmer likes to reward himself for good results. His focus? Nice clothes! “I enjoy different styles and combinations of clothes, maybe a fashion label… If I win or get into some money, I always spend some of it on clothes. I enjoy shopping, probably a lot more than the other guys on the team,“ he admits.


“I have no problem going into town in sweatpants or the jacket we've been issued with, but I also like to dress smartly. My favourite is probably streetwear.” Ondřej is also inspired by the Czech rap scene. "For example, Ektor or Yzomandias, the number one rapper now, who has his own whole label. They have their own merchandise. I enjoy their styles and often take inspiration from them.”

He has friends among professional rappers, but he only likes to sing during swimming sessions in the pool, as long as no one else is around to hear him. “If I get bored during practice and no one sees me, I sometimes try things or put together rhymes… But I don't think I'll try it publicly,” he adds, refusing to follow the Olympic fencer Alexander Choupenitch, who makes videos in his spare time. “He sings well, which is certainly not my case,” he laughs.

Sound memory

Back in elementary school, Ondřej regularly participated in recitation competitions. “I have an echoic memory. I remember, for example, the lyrics of all the songs stored on my phone. Whether it's Russian, Polish or Spanish... Whether I could write it down on paper is another question. Still, it proved very useful in learning languages. My English and Spanish are both good, but what helped me most was that I started to speak. My vocabulary has also been aided by playing computer games, especially GTA (Grand Theft Auto), which is basically one big movie...”


Not that he has much time for video games these days. In addition to studying at the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport, he trains two-three hours almost every weekday. “When I have time off, I do anything but swim, you need to rest. I'm often in Plzeň, where I'm from, and I like to meet friends and people I don't have time to see during the year because I live in Prague.”

Making a mark

Besides swimming, clothes and music, Ondřej Gemov has another unmistakable passion: tattoos (which are relatively uncommon among swimmers). “Every tattoo takes a long time to heal and you can't go in the water for a while, that's a disincentive for a lot of people. Plus, the swimmers' society in the Czech Republic seems awfully conservative,” says the Czech, comparing the situation around world, where a number of top swimmers have tattoos including Brazil’s Bruno Fratus or America’s Anthony Ervin.

Ondřej has seven tattoos so far and admits the number isn't final yet. "The first one was writing on his ribs, that's what my mom and I gave each other for Christmas when I was 18. Followed by the wings on my hand and the number of my year of birth under my hand. Then I thought I would go for something bigger - so the wolf and the eye followed, and finally the lady from my favourite Bathing Ape sweatshirt. All together they're things I like.”

Gemov may seem a touch extravagant within his surroundings, but in a face-to-face meeting, it’s clear that he's got things all figured out. Above all, he wants to draw attention in competition. He is also a key figure on the team, with coach Petra Škábová saying he is a popular member who constantly keeps the other swimmers in good spirits. His motivation is unwavering: “I want to finish as best as I possibly can at meets and stick to swimming for as long as possible…” As for the Olympics? The word “limit” he says, is “forbidden“ on the team.


Ondřej Gemov
Ondřej Gemov is a third-year student at the Faculty of Physical Education and Sport, with a double major in population protection and physical education. He is a national swim team representative. He races for – and trains with – VŠ Slavia Plzeň, alongside swimmers such as Barbora Seemannová or Jan Micka.
Author: Jiří Novák
Photo: Hynek Glos

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