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70,000 Czechs Crowd Square to Cheer Victory

By Nadia Rybarova
Associated Press
Sunday, February 22, 1998; 7:35 p.m. EST

 Wearing the Czech team's jersey, a fan waves the Czech flag as he celebrates with thousands of others Sunday in Prague's Wenceslas Square.
(Stanislav Peska/AP)
PRAGUE — About 70,000 jubilant fans jammed Old Town Square on Sunday to watch the Czechs' landmark hockey victory, prompting an outpouring of champagne toasts, honking car horns and waving flags.

Many waited overnight in nearby pubs and restaurants — and many on the square itself — to catch a spot close to the screen before the game, which ended with a 1-0 win over Russia in Nagano, for the Czech Republic's first Olympic gold medal in hockey.

"I could have watched at home, but the atmosphere was much better on the square,'' said 17-year-old high school student Tomas Weiss. "It was great, but I'm exhausted.''

After the game, most of the crowd moved to the Wenceslas Square, a traditional place for demonstrations as well as celebrations.

"Hasek to the Castle'' came the most frequent chant, a joke suggesting star goaltender Dominik Hasek could handle the president's job.

"Dominik is not human, Dominik is God!'' some yelled.

President Vaclav Havel, before his release from the hospital after throat surgery, was quick to send congratulations.

"Dear boys, I rejoice with you and with all our country,'' he said in a telegram.

After being released, Havel reportedly said he had talked to Hasek and told him of the chant from the crowds.

"Hasek said that I should still remain at the Castle as he would like to stick with hockey for a while,'' Havel was quoted as saying.

More celebrations are expected Monday when a plane sent from Prague will bring the Czech team home.

Police were unusually tolerant toward drivers, sometimes even clearing their way through the crowd in places where cars are not allowed.

A young driver who ignored a no-entry sign was waved through by two police officers after he was able to name the player who scored the game's only goal — Petr Svoboda.

"Our politicians should learn from the players what a team is,'' said a woman in her late 30s, too happy and too busy in the bustle to give her name.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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