In the interview, Capalbo also explains how the pandemic has changed people’s behavior, how some foreign runners are afraid to come to Prague and how the war in Ukraine has broken the long-prepared campaign dedicated to Emil Zátopek, in which the “prohibited” police “plays a major role.”
There are only dozens of hours left before the start of the Prague half-marathon. Do you feel nervous?
Rather a responsibility. For the last two years we haven’t been able to see more than 10 people together, except for covid, now they will be 11,000 at the start. It is the first sporting event of this format without restrictions, and even in Central Europe we start earlier than the others. Sportisimo 1/2 Marathon Prague and the Prague Marathon is one of the largest and most watched running events in the world. At the same time, I feel responsible for supporting the Ukrainian people. We want to send them support and show that whoever is running is not at war. We want to remind the importance of peace, even for people to think again about fundamental values. It’s not “just” another half marathon.
After a two-year hiatus, these are strong “accompanying” topics, aren’t they?
Yes. We used to organize “just” the race. Last year we had a covid race for elite runners which was a double shift. And now, crowds of recreational runners have joined us. I’m afraid we’ll make mistakes because we used to walk like a Swiss clock. But now we’re back after a two-year break and part of the team is new. That’s why I’m more careful. On the other hand, I have never had such a strong and determined feeling inside me as this year. And if in 2022 we manage to run all the races planned on our calendar (RunCzech also organizes, for example, a half marathon in Olomouc, Ústí nad Labem or České Budějovice)so I will have an extra glass for Christmas and as an Italian believer I will say: God, thank you very much!
Are you worried that force majeure will thwart the plans again?
It will be a miracle when everything clicks into place. People have changed during the pandemic. Previously, we could predict their behavior and adapt their marketing campaign, now this is no longer the case. You go step by step and plan no more than three months in advance. And you have no idea how people react. She is in general the human soul the least comprehensible thing that I know.
Especially last fall when a number of races moved, I heard from organizers of smaller races that people weren’t going back. You’re already an established brand, which is a plus, right?
People were afraid of covid. And now he is afraid to travel again. In the marathon, we had 50% foreign participants, in the half-marathon, 38%. Now 32% are on paper, but are they coming? To put it bluntly: in Western Europe they have little idea of the real map of the world. For example, from Venice it is not far from the Ukrainian border than from Prague. Even so, acquaintances from Italy called me and asked: Carlo, how do you live there now that there is a war? I say: Like you. Some don’t want to come because they are afraid.
In a way, the war affected you too. You have planned a campaign to support the phenomenon of running and to commemorate 100 years since the birth of Emil Zátopek and 70 years since his triumphs at the Olympic Games in Helsinki. You launched it, but it was dominated by the capital “Z” and had to be scaled down after a few days.
We worked on it for almost a year. We can’t even offer backpackers because we have a capital “Z” on it. To me “Z” is a symbol of Zorro or 40% of the word pizza. It’s just a letter that’s not even in the Russian alphabet. But it’s become a modern swastika, and while it’s meant to look like a phenomenal athlete, we don’t want it to be associated with aggression and evoking unpleasant emotions.
It probably can’t be determined now, because many people bought the entrance fee in 2020 and moved it. But do you think the Czechs will save money and not bring in so much at the races?
I know the Czechs and they are quite conservative, not crazy. A few of them will definitely think about spending first. But when compared with other sports, like hockey, tennis, running is cheap. This is one of the reasons why its interest continues to grow in times of financial crisis. In addition, there is enormous freedom. You don’t need to book anything, have partners. And when the head does not work, it is better to jog. But as I said, people have changed. We therefore await their reactions.
On the other hand, as an avid runner, I’ve often wondered why someone shows up for a pretty high sum for the Prague Half Marathon, when their final time is around 2:40 and under, and alternate between walking and running. That he would just pay for an expensive walk through Prague. Do you have an explanation for this?
Let’s not judge people what and why they should do. We cannot see them in the head. Some of them may have had a negative impact on the pandemic, they felt alone, so they are now happy to attend the event with thousands of others. It motivates them to get off the couch and want to enjoy a running “party”. Often the experience inspires them to add more training and do better next time. 45% of people repeat the marathon, a quarter of a half-marathon. And running a marathon is also good for a resume. I have spoken with many HR managers, for whom the completed marathon is a demonstration of the employee’s potential. That it’s performance driven doesn’t give up easily.
How difficult have the past two years been for your business?
We’ve never done any marketing splurge, we’re more conservative. That’s why we had saved money on the previous profits we had used. We didn’t have to ask for help from the banks, we paid all our obligations and we have the means to organize a half marathon in the best possible quality. The only difference is that the reserve was relatively high, now no. But I always rely on good and bad times in business and in life. But the current problem for many businesses may be a lack of energy. Find the fuel within you to move forward. Fortunately, I have people like that next to me.
Have you received compensation for canceled races?
Yes, but they covered about 30% of the cost. The problem is that we are neither a hotel nor a restaurant. There, when the restrictions ended, they could open the door almost the next day and customers would come back. With us, when we open the door, it takes another six months for everything to be ready.
You are described as a man who taught the Czechs to love running. Applies to?
I don’t know if I did, but I’m trying. And the company accepted it. I know a lot of stories of people who needed to turn 35, were unhappy with their lifestyle, and decided to do something about it. They started running to improve. And this is the most positive thing of all my efforts.
And are the Czechs still interested in racing?
Honestly, I do not know. I think life cycles change and repeat over generations. So now we need to reach a new community of people who need to be addressed with a different message from the previous one. To give an example, it was crucial to have a half marathon live on television. People saw sponsors watching it. But today young people can look at something for a minute. It is therefore necessary to communicate differently, to offer them something different, new.
Last year we organized the battle of the teams – a duel of teams, which revolutionized the marathon. We did it only for the elite, but this year we will involve thousands of hobbies in it. We will transform a purely individual sport into a community to a team sport. When you decide to run a marathon, there is a personal challenge behind it. You have lost a close friend, you want to be fit. There will be another reason now. Your performance will affect the performance and result of the elite world record holders. Until now, when you reached the finish line as an amateur, for example at 3:30 a.m., you were full of enthusiasm. And I told you: a world record was set here today. But you didn’t care because you ran your own race. But now we’re going to put the top of the starting pack and the tail in a group that will win together. Everyone will try to do their best on the track, as they will be part of teams like Eva Vrabcová Nývltová or Kenyan representatives.
Sounds interesting. How will you be when the tones of the Vltava ring out on Saturday and a crowd of runners hit the track?
They will probably start thinking about the next race. But the Vltava is a symbol. He plays in all our races, whether we organize them in Japan, Italy or Olomouc. It is our brand, which is part of the Czech identity.
I must admit that I heard it several times at the start and we got goosebumps.
I am okay. I was in Naples in February, where we are having a half marathon, and I saw a Czech woman crying at the start of the Vltava. And she shouted at me: It’s like home here! And I cried with her. These are amazing times when sport gives you so much. And it also charges me with energy and confidence.