Belgrade 2024: Olympian Petra Weber on Masters medals and motherhood

By Nick Hope
Aquatics Correspondent

European Aquatics Masters Championships bring together athletes from a fascinating array of backgrounds and while some will take to the water at Belgrade 2024 for the experience, others have very specific targets.

“I have no small goals,” states Czechia Olympian Petra Weber, perhaps better known by her maiden name of Chocová. “I obviously want to improve my European records and I would like to try to break the world record in the 50m and 100m breaststroke.”

14 years ago, she completed a life “dream” by representing her nation at London 2012, during a year which also saw the swimmer claim historic 50m breaststroke titles at the European (elite) long course, as well as short course, championships.

She may now be 37 and a mother of an energetic four-year-old, but Weber insists she has “still not retired” and races in Masters events, in addition to senior competitions, in her homeland.

“I started competing a lot more in the Masters category after I had my daughter and found that it was a much better environment in terms of atmosphere and mental wellbeing,”Weber tells European Aquatics.

The swimmer will compete in her signature 50m and 100m breaststroke events, as well as the 50m butterfly and 50m freestyle, during Belgrade 2024.

The 11-day competition runs from 26 June to 6 July and each of the sports – artistic swimming, diving, open water swimming, pool swimming and water polo – will be streamed live on the European Aquatics TV YouTube channel.

Weber made her major international Masters debut at the 2018 Europeans in Slovenia, where she claimed gold and set her first 50m breaststroke world record.

The following year she had planned to compete in the elite World Championships, but discovered she was pregnant just days after achieving the qualification mark.

The following months presented many challenges, in and out of the water.

“I wanted to come back after giving birth to my daughter, but my (national team) contract was terminated due to the age factor,” she tells European Aquatics.

“I tried to swim and coach fitness until I gave birth, which was almost two months early, but my premature baby completely changed my life and I turned my brain off from swimming.

“Since having a prematurely born daughter I learned how non-profit organisation Nedoklubko helps families of premature babies and I approached them to say I would love to work with them.

“I have been active for Nedoklubko as a coordinator for the ÚPMD (hospital) in Prague, where I gave birth and where they took a great care of my daughter Lilli.”

Weber returned to swimming as her daughter’s condition improved and Lilli will be in Belgrade to support her mum from the stands.

“I am very happy that my daughter Lilli will be there with me as it’s great to be able to introduce her to a multicultural environment and to experience such atmosphere in early childhood,” says Weber.

“I’m sure she will want to enjoy the medal ceremonies with me too, in case I am successful!”

The Olympian will be looking to add to the three European titles (Roma 2022), two World crowns (Fukuoka 2023) and four gold medal successes at the first-ever European short course championships (Madeira 2023) she has attained in recent years.

The swimmer currently holds three world records and seven European records and is driven on by not only her long-standing competitive nature, but also the injustice she feels she experienced after becoming a mother.

“I never wanted to stop my professional swimming carrier when I found out I was pregnant,” she tells European Aquatics.

“Even though no-one helped me in my comeback, except my fitness trainer Pavel Provázek, I was determined to come back. I wanted to prove to myself and the people around me that I could do that and compete again with girls who are 20 years younger.”

Senior national successes in Czechia prove her on-going prowess in the pool.

Belgrade 2024 will also provide Weber with moments of reflection though, as she returns to the city which hosted the 2009 World University Games.

“I am really looking forward to Belgrade again as I haven’t been to Serbia since the World Universiade 15 years ago,” she says. “I hope that now I will be able to see the Belgrade area in addition to the races, meet a lot of new people and generally enjoy the Masters competition.”

Regardless of her results, or the motivations of other competitors, Weber is keen to emphasise the importance of the Masters swimming community.

“It’s especially nice to watch the seniors putting in amazing performances in the pool because the senior athletes are so fit and are just amazing and inspirational,” she tells European Aquatics.

“They are all full of positive energy, smiling, very kind and overall it always adds an absolutely amazing atmosphere to the races.

“Even though sometimes not everything goes according to a plan, I always very much look forward to Masters races.”

For more information about the European Aquatics Masters Championships Belgrade 2024, head to the official website.