Emil Zátopek
Emil Zátopek (ˈɛmɪl ˈzaːtopɛk) (September 19, 1922 – November 22, 2000) was a Czech
Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is a landlocked country in Central Europe. The country is bordered by Poland to the northeast, Slovakia to the east, Austria to the south, and Germany to the west and northwest....

 long-distance runner best known for winning three gold medals at the 1952 Summer Olympics
1952 Summer Olympics
The 1952 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XV Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event held in Helsinki, Finland in 1952. Helsinki had been earlier given the 1940 Summer Olympics, which were cancelled due to World War II...

 in Helsinki
Helsinki is the capital and largest city in Finland. It is in the region of Uusimaa, located in southern Finland, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, an arm of the Baltic Sea. The population of the city of Helsinki is , making it by far the most populous municipality in Finland. Helsinki is...

. He won gold in the 5000 metres
5000 metres
The 5000 metres is a popular running distance also known as 5 km or 5K in American English. It is one of the track events in the Olympic Games and the World Championships in Athletics. "5000 metres" refers to racing on a track and "5K" usually refers to a roadrace or cross country event...

 and 10,000 metres runs, but his final medal came when he decided at the last minute to compete in the first marathon
The marathon is a long-distance running event with an official distance of 42.195 kilometres , that is usually run as a road race...

 of his life. He was nicknamed the "Czech Locomotive" for his multiple golds.

Zátopek was the first athlete to break the 29-minute barrier in the 10 km run (in 1954). Three years earlier, in 1951, he had broken the hour for running 20 km. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest runners of the 20th century and was also known for his brutally tough training methods.

Early years

Emil Zátopek was born in Kopřivnice
Kopřivnice is a town in the Moravian-Silesian Region of the Czech Republic. It has cca 23,500 inhabitants.- History :In 1850, both of the former villages, Drnholec nad Lubinou and Větřkovice, became a part of the political district of Nový Jičín within the judicial district Příbor...

, Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

 on September 19, 1922, as the sixth child of a modest family. When Zátopek was 16, he began working in a Bata
Bata Shoes
Bata Shoes is a large, family owned shoe company based in Bermuda but currently headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, operating 3 business units worldwide – Bata Metro Markets, Bata Emerging Markets and Bata Branded Business. It has a retail presence in over 50 countries and production...

 shoe factory in Zlín
Zlín , from 1949 to 1989 Gottwaldov , is a city in the Zlín Region, southeastern Moravia, Czech Republic, on the Dřevnice River. The development of the modern city is closely connected to the Bata Shoes company...

. Zátopek says that "One day, the factory sports coach, who was very strict, pointed at four boys, including me, and ordered us to run in a race. I protested that I was weak and not fit to run, but the coach sent me for a physical examination, and the doctor said that I was perfectly well. So I had to run, and when I got started, I felt I wanted to win. But I only came in second. That was the way it started." Zátopek finished second out of the field of 100. After that point, he began to take a serious interest in running.

A mere four years later, in 1944, Emil broke the Czech records for 2,000, 3,000, and 5,000 metres. He was selected for the Czech national team for the 1946 European Championships and finished fifth in the 5K, breaking his own Czech record of 14:50.2, running 14:25.8.


Zátopek first entered the international athletics field at the 1948 Summer Olympics
1948 Summer Olympics
The 1948 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XIV Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event which was held in London, England, United Kingdom. After a 12-year hiatus because of World War II, these were the first Summer Olympics since the 1936 Games in Berlin...

 in London, winning the 10 km (his second race at that distance) and finishing second behind Gaston Reiff
Gaston Reiff
Gaston Reiff was a Belgian athlete, winner of the 1948 Olympic title in the 5,000 m.Reiff was born in Braine-l'Alleud, and competed in boxing and football before switching to running. His greatest performance is no doubt his 5000 m title at the 1948 Summer Olympics...

 from Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 in the 5 km.
The following year Zátopek broke the 10 km world record twice, and went on to better his own record three times over the next four seasons. He also set records in the 5 km (1954), 20 km (twice in 1951), one-hour run
Hour run
The one hour run is an athletics event in which competitors try to cover as much distance as possible within one hour. While officially recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations as a track event, it is rarely contested apart from occasional world record attempts.The event...

 (twice in 1951), 25 km (1952 and 1955), and 30 km (1952). He won the 5 km and 10 km at the 1950 European Championships and the 10 km at the next European Championships, ahead of Jozsef Kovacs
József Kovács (athlete)
József Kovács was a Hungarian athlete who competed mainly in the 10,000 metres.Born in Nyíregyháza, Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg he competed for Hungary in the 1956 Summer Olympics held in Melbourne, Australia in the 10,000 metres where he won the silver medal.-References:*...

 and Frank Sando
Frank Sando
Frank Dennis Sando is a retired British World Cross-Country Champion. Regarded as one of Britain's most accomplished athletes, Frank was a dominant force throughout the 1950s, winning the International Cross-Country Championship in 1955 and 1957, and representing Great Britain in two consecutive...


At the 1952 Summer Olympics
1952 Summer Olympics
The 1952 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XV Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event held in Helsinki, Finland in 1952. Helsinki had been earlier given the 1940 Summer Olympics, which were cancelled due to World War II...

 in Helsinki, Zátopek won gold in the 5 km run, 10 km run, and the marathon. He also broke the existing Olympic record in each of the three events. His victory in the 5 km came after a ferocious last lap in 57.5 seconds, during which he went from fourth place to first while Christopher Chataway
Christopher Chataway
Sir Christopher John Chataway is a British former middle- and long-distance runner, television news broadcaster, and a Conservative politician...

, now second after being overtaken by Zátopek, tripped on the curb and fell. His final medal came when he decided at the last minute to compete in the marathon for the first time in his life, and won. His strategy for the marathon was simple: he raced alongside Jim Peters, the British world-record holder. After a punishing first fifteen kilometres in which Peters knew he had overtaxed himself, Zátopek asked the Englishman what he thought of the race thus far. The astonished Peters told the Czech that the pace was "too slow," in an attempt to slip up Zátopek, at which point Zátopek simply accelerated. Peters never finished; Zátopek ran an Olympic record race.

Zátopek attempted to defend his marathon gold medal in 1956; however, he suffered a groin injury while training and was hospitalized for six weeks. He resumed training the day after leaving the hospital and never quite regained his form, finishing sixth to his old rival and friend Alain Mimoun
Alain Mimoun
Alain Mimoun is a retired French runner and Olympic marathon champion.-Early life:Born in El Telagh, then in French Algeria, Mimoun lost several years of competition to World War II...

. He retired from competition in 1957.

Zátopek's running style was distinctive and very much at odds with what was considered to be an efficient style at the time. His head would often roll, face contorted with effort, while his torso swung from side to side. He often wheezed and panted audibly while running, which earned him the nicknames of "Emil the Terrible" or "the Czech Locomotive". When asked about his tortured facial expressions, Zátopek is said to have replied that "It isn't gymnastics or figure skating, you know." In addition he would train in any weather, including snow, and would often do so while wearing heavy work boots as opposed to special running shoes. He was always willing to give advice to other runners. One example he often gave was to always be relaxed and to help ensure that while running, gently touch the tip of your thumb with the tip of your index or middle finger. Just making that slight contact would ensure that arms and shoulders remained relaxed.

Later years

A hero in his native country, Zátopek was an influential figure in the Communist Party. However, he supported the party's democratic wing, and after the Prague Spring
Prague Spring
The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II...

, he was removed from all important positions and forced to work in a uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 mine as punishment. On the 9th of March 1990, Zátopek was rehabilitated by Václav Havel
Václav Havel
Václav Havel is a Czech playwright, essayist, poet, dissident and politician. He was the tenth and last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic . He has written over twenty plays and numerous non-fiction works, translated internationally...

Zátopek died in Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

, after a long illness, in 2000 at the age of 78. He was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal
Pierre de Coubertin medal
The Pierre de Coubertin medal is a special medal given by the International Olympic Committee to those athletes who demonstrate the spirit of sportsmanship in Olympic events.The medal was inaugurated in 1964 and named in honour of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic...

 posthumously in December 2000. Zatopek is the only Olympic athlete whose statue appears at the Musée Olympique in Lausanne.

Personal life

His wife Dana Zátopková
Dana Zátopková
Dana Zátopková was a Czech javelin thrower. She won the gold medal for javelin in the 1952 Summer Olympics , and the silver medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics. She was the European champion in 1954 and 1958...

 (born the same day as her husband) was an outstanding athlete in her own right in the javelin throw
Javelin throw
The javelin throw is a track and field athletics throwing event where the object to be thrown is the javelin, a spear approximately 2.5 metres in length. Javelin is an event of both the men's decathlon and the women's heptathlon...

. She won the gold medal in the javelin in the 1952 Summer Olympics
1952 Summer Olympics
The 1952 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XV Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event held in Helsinki, Finland in 1952. Helsinki had been earlier given the 1940 Summer Olympics, which were cancelled due to World War II...

 - only a few moments after Emil's victory in the 5 km run - and the silver medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics
1960 Summer Olympics
The 1960 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XVII Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event held from August 25 to September 11, 1960 in Rome, Italy...

. An example of the playful relationship between husband and wife came when Emil attempted to take some credit for his wife's Olympic victory at her press conference, claiming that it was his victory in the 5 km run that had "inspired" her. Dana's indignant response was, "Really? Okay, go inspire some other girl and see if she throws a javelin fifty metres!!"

Emil and Dana were the witnesses at the wedding ceremony of Olympic gold medalists Olga Fikotová
Olga Fikotová
Olga Fikotová is a Czechoslovakian and later American athlete who is best known for winning gold at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics in the discus and her romance across Cold War barriers with American hammer gold medalist Harold Connolly.A natural athlete, she represented Czechoslovakia at national...

 and Harold Connolly
Harold Vincent Connolly
Harold Vincent "Hal" Connolly was an American athlete and hammer thrower from Somerville, Massachusetts. He won a gold medal in the hammer throw at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. During the course of his career, Connolly became the first American to throw more than 200 feet...

 in Prague in 1957. Emil had spoken to the Czechoslovak president Antonín Zápotocký
Antonín Zápotocký
Antonín Zápotocký was communist Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 1953 and President of Czechoslovakia from 1953 to 1957....

 to request help in getting Olga a permit to marry Connolly. While it's not clear how much this helped, they surprisingly received a permit a few days later.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.