After two seasons dominating the European circuit, 400m man Pavel Maslak is ready to take on the world. SPIKES chats to the European indoor and outdoor champion about doing mad martial arts, and why his trademark running sleeves won’t be coming off any time soon.

At SPIKES we always like to hear how athletes relax away from the sport. Pavel Maslak, 22, practises capoeira: the Brazilian martial art that combines dance, music, acrobatics and gravity-defying skills. It might seem like a peculiar pastime for a lad from the Czech/Polish border, 6,000 miles from Rio, but Maslak has always stood out from the crowd.

With boyish looks, close cropped hair and signature arm warmers, he cuts an instantly recognisable figure on the athletics track. But it is for his ability that he is receiving real recognition.

Born in Havířov, an industrial town in the east of the Czech Republic. His father (now a lift operator in an underground mine) was a talented basketball player and his mother (now a crane driver) was a former gymnast.

His flair for athletics was evident from an early age. “Athletics was the first sport I tried, and as soon as I started I liked it. I’ve stayed with the sport since then, and never tried any others.”

It took Maslak a while to determine his strongest event. He represented the Czech Republic over 400m at the world youth champs in 2007, and then ran in the 100m at the world juniors the following year.

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Flying the flag: Maslak has enjoyed plenty of success in Europe, armsleeves ‘n all.

The pivotal race of his junior career was at the European juniors in Novi Sad in 2009, where he finished fifth in the 200m.

“It was after my performance in this event when I really started to believe that if things worked out, I could have a real future in athletics.”

He lowered his 200m lifetime best to 20.63 in the heats of the world champs at Daegu 2011 (where he exited at the semis), having landed a 200m European under-23 bronze medal on home mondo in Ostrava a month earlier.

Maslak, and his coach Dalibor Kupka, then made the decision to move up to the 400m.

“I knew it would be easier to break through in this event, so step-by-step we started to focus more on the 400m,“ he says “I don’t mind running 400m. Basically, I’d always trained for the 400m, it’s just I’d been running mostly 200m in competition.”

Doubling the distance proved revelatory. Maslak quickly adapted to one-lap life, and within a year was crowned European 400m champion in Helsinki. Later in the season, he posted a Czech record 44.91 in the heats of the London Olympics, where he again exited at the semi-final stage.

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I am Pav, hear me roar: Maslak takes 400m European gold, aged 21.

His improvement continued last season, setting a national indoor record of 45.66 en route to European indoor gold in Gothenburg in March. Maslak then set a national outdoor record 44.84 to qualify for the world champs final in Moscow in August, where he finished fifth.

Still coached by Kupka, and now based in Prague, he’s quick to praise the role played by his talented training group, which includes world 400m hurdles champion Zuzana Hejnova.

“They are wonderful people who understand each other” he says. “In the winter we do similar training, and Hejnova’s great strength is her speed. She is a tireless person who has a great feeling for hurdles technique.”

Maslak intends to increase his training over the winter; beginning 2014 with two clear targets:

“First, I would love to get into the final of the World Indoor Championships in Sopot, and then the big target is a medal at the European Championships in Zurich.“

And will 2014 bring any changes to his inimitable style?

"I only have one haircut, the short version, because I think it fits me most,“ he says with a laugh. And the arm warmers? “I wear them because I want people to remember me."  

With or without them, Maslak is doing his best to get noticed.