Emil Zátopek

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Emil Zátopek in 1951
Personal information
Born 19 September 1922
Kopřivnice, Czechoslovakia
Died 22 November 2000 (aged 78)
Prague, Czech Republic
Height 1.82 m (6 ft 0 in)
Weight 72 kg (159 lb)
Sport
Sport Long-distance running
Club TJ Gottwaldov, Zlín
Dukla Praha

Emil Zátopek (Czech pronunciation: [ˈɛmɪl ˈzaːtopɛk] ( )) (19 September 1922 – 22 November 2000) was a Czechoslovak long-distance runner best known for winning three gold medals at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. He won gold in the 5000 metres and 10,000 metres runs, but his final medal came when he decided at the last minute to compete in the first marathon of his life.[1] He was nicknamed the "Czech Locomotive".

Zátopek was the first athlete to break the 29-minute barrier in the 10,000 metres (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. He was the instigator of interval training and hypoventilation training.[2] In February 2013, the editors at Runner's World Magazine selected him as the Greatest Runner of All Time.[3] He is the only person to win the 5,000 metres, 10,000 metres, and marathon in the same Olympics.

Early years[edit]

Zátopek was the sixth child in a modest family. Aged 16, he began working in a Bata[4] shoe factory in Zlín. 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."[5] Zátopek finished second out of the field of 100. After that point, he began to take a serious interest in running. He joined the local athletic club, where he developed his own training program, modelled on what he had read about the great Finnish Olympian Paavo Nurmi.[6]

A mere four years later, in 1944, Zátopek broke the Czechoslovak records for 2000, 3000 and 5000 metres. At the end of the war he joined the Czechoslovak Army, where he was gradually given more time for his gruelling training regimen.[6]

Competitions[edit]

Zátopek was selected for the Czechoslovak national team for the 1946 European Championships and finished fifth in the 5,000 m in 14:25.8, breaking his own Czechoslovak record of 14:50.2. At the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, Zátopek won the 10,000 m (his second race at that distance) and finished second behind Gaston Reiff from Belgium in the 5 km.

Zátopek in 1951

The following year Zátopek broke the 10,000 m world record twice, and went on to better his own record three times over the next four seasons. He also set records in the 5,000 m (1954), 20,000 m (twice in 1951), one-hour run (twice in 1951), 25,000 m (1952 and 1955), and 30,000 m (1952). He won the 5,000 m and 10,000 m at the 1950 European Championships and the 10,000 m at the next European Championships, ahead of Jozsef Kovacs and Frank Sando.

At the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Zátopek won gold in the 5,000 m, 10,000 m, and the marathon, breaking Olympic records in each event. His victory in the 5,000 m came after a ferocious last lap in 57.5 seconds, during which he went from fourth place to first while Christopher Chataway, now fourth after being overtaken by Zátopek, Mimoun, and Schade, 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 did not finish, while Zátopek won the race setting an Olympic record.[6]

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, but never quite regained his form. He finished sixth in the marathon,[6] which was won by his old rival and friend Alain Mimoun. Zátopek 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 always to 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.

Grave of Emil Zátopek in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm

Later years[edit]

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 1968 Prague Spring, he was stripped of his rank and expelled from the army and the party,[6] removed from all important positions and forced to work in a string of inferior and dangerous positions, such as a uranium mine, refuse collection service, and well digging. On 9 March 1990, Zátopek was rehabilitated by Václav Havel.

Zátopek died in Prague on 22 November 2000 at the age of 78, after a long illness. His funeral at Prague's National Theatre was crowded with leading figures from the international sports world.[6] He was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal posthumously in December 2000. In 2012, he was named among the first twelve athletes to be inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame.[7]

Personal life[edit]

His wife Dana Zátopková (born the same day and year as her husband) won a gold medal in the javelin throw at the 1952 Olympics, only a few moments after Emil's victory in the 5 km run; she finished second at the 1960 Olympics. 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 5,000 m 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!".[8]

Known for his friendly and gregarious personality, and with the ability to speak six languages, Zátopek was regularly visited at his home in Prague by international athletes he had befriended at competitions. His British rival Gordon Pirie described it as "the merriest and gayest home I've been in".[6]

Emil and Dana were the witnesses at the wedding ceremony of Olympic gold medalists Olga Fikotová and Harold Connolly in Prague in 1957. Emil had spoken to the Czechoslovak president Antonín Zápotocký to request help in getting national heroine Olga a permit to marry the American Connolly, at the height of the Cold War. While it's not clear how much this helped, they unexpectedly received a permit a few days later.[9]

In 1968 Zátopek invited the Australian Ron Clarke to visit his home. Zátopek knew the bad luck that Clarke had faced; he held many middle distance track and field world records and had attempted to join his idol in the record books but fallen short in winning an Olympic gold medal. After the visit, Clarke received from Zátopek the greatest present he ever cherished, the 10,000 m gold medal of Zátopek from the 1952 Olympics.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Emil Zátopek. sports-reference.com
  2. ^ "Emil Zatopek: The Greatest Champion? – General – Runner's World". Runnersworld.co.uk. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  3. ^ "Greatest Runner" (PDF). Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  4. ^ ""All of them oddballs: Angus Calder sees the diversity of life", ''The National Post''". Robertfulford.com. 30 March 2004. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  5. ^ "''Runner's World'' quote webpage". Web.archive.org. 21 August 2006. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Burnton, Simon (22 June 2012). "50 stunning Olympic moments No 41: Emil Zatopek the triple-gold winner". The Guardian. 
  7. ^ "Owens, Nurmi among first in IAAF Hall of Fame". Reuters. 8 March 2012. Retrieved 20 September 2012. 
  8. ^ Vzpomínáček – 19. září – Dana Zátopková a Emil Zátopek. santroch.blog.idnes.cz
  9. ^ "Olga Fikotová-Connolly: 1956 Olympic champion dubbed “traitor” in communist Czechoslovakia over romance with US athlete". Radio.cz. 30 April 2014. Retrieved 12 May 2014. 

External links[edit]

Records
Preceded by
Sweden Gunder Hägg
Men's 5000 m world record holder
30 May 1954 – 29 August 1954
Succeeded by
Soviet Union Vladimir Kuts
Preceded by
Finland Viljo Heino
Men's 10000 m world record holder
11 June 1949 – 1 September 1949
Succeeded by
Finland Viljo Heino
Preceded by
Finland Viljo Heino
Men's 10000 m world record holder
22 October 1949 – 15 July 1956
Succeeded by
Hungary Sándor Iharos
Preceded by
Finland Viljo Heino
Men's one hour run world record holder
15 September 1951 – 24 August 1963
Succeeded by
New Zealand Bill Baillie
Preceded by
Finland Viljo Heino
Men's 20000 m world record holder
15 September 1951 – 24 August 1963
Succeeded by
New Zealand Bill Baillie
Preceded by
Finland Mikko Hietanen
Men's 25000 m world record holder
26 October 1952 – 27 September 1955
Succeeded by
Soviet Union Albert Ivanov
Preceded by
Soviet Union Albert Ivanov
Men's 25000 m world record holder
29 October 1955 – 21 July 1965
Succeeded by
United Kingdom Ron Hill
Preceded by
Soviet Union Yakov Moskachenkov
Men's 30000 m world record holder
26 October 1952 – 21 October 1956
Succeeded by
Finland Antti Viskari