GALLERY: Human pyramids, mass gymnastics – Sokol in photos

Hundreds of thousands of spectators will descend on Prague as the Sokol mass sports festival kicks off on June 30.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 28.06.2024 16:30:00 (updated on 28.06.2024) Reading time: 3 minutes

The Czech capital is gearing up to host one of the largest gymnastic events in the world, as the 17th Sokol mass sports festival kicks off on June 30.

The Sokol movement, a Czech organization focused on physical education and national identity, will bring together nearly 20,000 participants from around the globe for a week of performances, parades, and cultural events throughout the city, known as the Sokol Slet.

The main highlight will be the large-scale gymnastic exercises held at the Fortuna Arena on July 4 and 5. Over 1,500 gymnasts from countries like the U.S., Australia, and Ukraine will join more than 18,000 Czech participants in the visually stunning mass displays.

Sokol

“The Falcons turn physical education into an art. During the exercise, you will see unique human figures on the desktop. In this, we are unique and have no competition in the world,” said Petr Svoboda, head of the Czech Sokolská organization and chairman of the rally team to Deník. For the uninitiated, Sokol means “falcon” in many Slavic languages; a slet is a gathering akin to a flock.

Sokol movement: Historical highs and lows

The Sokol movement originated in the mid-19th century, when it was founded in the Czech lands while they were still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Established in 1862 by Miroslav Tyrš, Sokol began as a physical fitness organization focused on gymnastics and nationalist ideals.

Sokol

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Sokol became central to Czech national identity and the drive for independence. Sokol members were active in the Czech Legions that fought against the Austro-Hungarians in World War I, and the movement flourished in the interwar Czechoslovak Republic.

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Construction of Strahov Stadium began in 1926 to provide a venue for mass Sokol gatherings. These meetings were held every six years. The largest gathering took place in July 1938, just before the start of World War II. It was attended by 348,086 Sokol members and over 2.3 million spectators.

Sokol’s mass gymnastic rallies, held every six years, became hugely popular, drawing hundreds of thousands of participants and spectators. The organization also produced many Olympic athletes and was influential in Czech politics and culture.

Sokol

However, Sokol was devastated by Nazi persecution during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II. Thousands of Sokol members were arrested, imprisoned, or executed. The movement never fully recovered in the communist era, as the socialist regime promoted its own physical cultural events like the Spartakiads.

After the Velvet Revolution of 1989, Sokol began to be revived, though with a much smaller membership than in its pre-war heyday. Today, with over 150,000 members worldwide, Sokol organizes mass gymnastic festivals and promotes physical education and Czech national identity.

Sokol

Human pyramids and 50,000 spectators

The performances will feature everything from three-story human pyramids to playful compositions by schoolchildren as young as three years old. Lighting and scenic effects will add to the spectacle, which organizers expect will draw around 50,000 spectators.

Beyond the main arena events, the Sokol gathering will take over Prague with a rich program of stage performances, concerts, exhibitions, and other cultural activities. A special Sokol-themed tram has already begun running through the city streets.

Sokol

“The rally is mainly about friendship and pride,” said Martin Chlumský, mayor of the Czech Sokolská municipality. “I believe this year will be one of the best in history.”

Sokol

With tickets nearly sold out, the 17th Sokol slet is poised to be a remarkable celebration of Czech tradition, unity, and athletic artistry on a grand scale. Prague will be transformed into a hub of Sokol spirit and pageantry in the coming weeks.

But while there’s a lot of fanfare associated with the movement Sokol isn’t just about flashy synchronized gymnastics. For many Czechs, the organization is an integral part of their national heritage, which promotes the idea of “a strong mind in a sound body.” It still exists in some 1,000 villages nationwide today, where families and community members come together for sports and cultural activities.

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