INSTANT REPLAY: Czech out Milena’s Olympic story
Dr. Milena Neveklovska climbed onto a step stool in front of the sign at the entrance to her Lynn Valley dentist’s office last week to have her picture taken.
As she did so, I couldn’t help but envision her stepping onto the diving board in Mexico City – 44 years earlier – at the 1968 Olympic Games. She was just 16 years old then and not even 5’ 2” tall as she took her position in front of the Olympic rings on the wall away up there on the platform diving board 10 metres above the water.
If it wasn’t enough that this was her final dive of the ’68 Olympics for the-then-Milena Duchková of Czechoslovakia, she needed a superbly executed 2½ inward somersault in pike position to put away her Soviet Union opponent Nataliya Lobanova.
Of course it was ironic that it came down to these two because just before the Olympics, the leaders of the powerful Soviet Union had sent its army into little Czechoslovakia to show just who was boss of Eastern Bloc communism. The world didn’t like this strong-arm tactic.
Everyone loves an underdog and Czechoslovakia and Milena exemplified the very word. “The crowd was really cheering for us, 100 percent,” she remembers now.
Of the 24 entrants in the platform diving competition, seven had competed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, including defending champion Lesley Bush of the United States, the winning country in this event in eight of 11 previous Olympics. Czechoslovakia had never won a medal in women’s platform diving and in fact had never even finished in the top eight in any of the men’s or women’s diving events or for that matter had never had a medal in any aquatics event period.
During the four qualification dives in 1968, Milena had moved up from a low of fifth place overall to third, scoring a total of 51.61 points. Nataliya Lobanova was first with 53.80. Ann Peterson of the U.S. was second at 52.14. Now came the final three dives for the top 12 entrants.
Milena’s 18.46 on her next dive brought her total score into second place only .75 behind the Russian (70.82 to 70.07) and within striking distance of the gold medal.
Who was the pressure on now? Was it little Milena from a land-locked country unrecognized in the diving and aquatics world? Or was it Nataliya – five years older at 21 and an Olympic veteran, having finished seventh in this event in 1964 – from the mighty USSR? “No pressure [on me],” recalls Milena, “just the opposite.”
Milena nailed her second-to-last dive with a 19.24 score (while Nataliya managed only 15.36) and then topped that on her final dive with a 20.28 (Nataliya had a very good 18.96), giving the Czech lass the gold medal by a significant margin of 109.59 to 105.14.
But there’s more to this story. Roaring up from way back in 11th spot after the preliminary rounds to fourth overall was Canadian Bev Boys. Miss Boys scored 22.04 on the first of her final-round dives, by far the highest score for any dive by any of the competitors.
It was at these Olympics that Milena and Bev first met; the beginning of a life-long friendship and a world of changes for Milena. The pair also competed in the springboard event with Bev taking seventh and Milena 10th, the only two divers to earn top-10 finishes in both disciplines. The two met again at the 1972 Munich Olympics where Milena won the silver medal in platform and took 10th again in springboard while Bev captured fifth in springboard and 14th in platform. They also met in Montreal for the 1976 Olympics. Shoulder surgery a few weeks previous hampered Milena and she placed 22nd in platform. Bev took ninth in springboard.
It was because of Boys and other Canadian friends made through diving that Milena eventually wanted to move to Canada.
Married to Petr Neveklovska, a volleyball player and a Czech national volleyball administer with the country’s men’s eighth-place team at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Milena took a short-term consulting position with the Canadian diving team (moving to Montreal with their one-year-old daughter Michelle in January 1980) and a year-long job coaching diving in Newfoundland. Petr joined her in August that year and they eventually got their citizenship papers and became full-fledged Canadians.
Milena, who took dental training in Czechoslovakia, completed her Canadian dental degree at the University of Manitoba and the family moved to North Van in 1983 where Milena soon joined a dental practice in Lynn Valley, eventually buying the business, while Petr coached volleyball at UBC, SFU and Capilano College.
By now, in addition to Michelle, the family included son Martin and daughter Monica, all of whom went to Ross Road Elementary and then – when the Neveklovskas moved to West Van – to Sentinel Secondary, graduating in 1997, 2001 and 2005 respectively.
Michelle and Monica both played for Coach Rika Luttin’s senior tennis team at Sentinel from Grade 8-12, the Spartans winning B.C. “AAA” titles in 1996 and ’97 while Michelle was captain. Michelle twice earned North Shore Secondary Schools’ Athletic Association athlete-of-the-week honours while going undefeated in school competition all five years. She took a scholarship to Syracuse University where her 149 wins ranks her sixth all-time in school history. She was captain there as well.
Monica also captained Sentinel and the team won B.C. championships in 2002, ’03 and ’04 as she went unbeaten in league play for four years. Ranked #1 in B.C. in singles in U16 and U18, she went on to play at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, captaining the team in her final two years and sporting a 23-3 record in singles and doubles in 2009, her grad year..
Martin now works for Ironclad Games, a PC strategy game developer based in Burnaby. And, no, tennis is not one of its games.
The whole family was in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend celebrating Michelle’s PhD in neuroscience at the University of Virginia. And Milena now heads to London where she has been invited by the Czech Republic to attend the Olympic Games as a former gold medallist.
But the day before leaving, she was still on the job at her dental practice; her list of patients that day including none other than Bev Boys, now living in White Rock, whose whole family gets their teeth looked at by Milena. If they ever need gold fillings, I can think of no one better than Milena to be the perfect one to accommodate them.
This is episode 465 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.