Věra Čáslavská

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Věra Čáslavská
— Gymnast —
Věra Čáslavská 1967e.jpg
Věra Čáslavská in 1967
Personal information
Full name Věra Čáslavská
Country represented  Czechoslovakia
Born (1942-05-03) 3 May 1942 (age 72)
Prague, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
Height 5'3" (160 cm)
Weight 128 lbs (58 kg)
Discipline Women's artistic gymnastics
Retired 1968

Věra Čáslavská (Czech pronunciation: [ˈvjɛra ˈtʃaːslafskaː]; born 3 May 1942) is a Czech former gymnast. Blonde, cheerful and possessing impressive stage presence, she was generally popular with the public and won a total of 22 international titles[1] including seven Olympic gold medals, all in individual events (an all-time record among female Olympians).

Čáslavská is the most decorated Czech gymnast in history and is one of only two female gymnasts, along with Soviet Larisa Latynina, to win the all-around gold medal at two consecutive Olympics.[2] She was also the 1966 all-around World Champion and the 1965 and 1967 all-around European Champion.

Caslavska scored two perfect scores of 10 in event finals at the 1967 European Championships.[3]

Čáslavská has the distinction of holding more Olympic individual event titles than any other gymnast, a record she has now held for over 40 years.[4] She is also the only gymnast, male or female, ever who has won Olympic gold on every individual event (all-around, vault, uneven bars, beam, floor exercise for women). Between 1964 and 1968 Čáslavská was undefeated in the all-around in major international competition; to date, she is the only female gymnast ever to win every Olympic, World Championships and European Championships all-around title from one Olympiad to the next. She was the most successful athlete at the 1968 Summer Olympics. She won the 1968 Olympic All-Around title with the highest recorded score up to that time. Her win by 1.4 points remains the largest winning margin in Olympics, World, World Cup or European Championships for women in an All-Around competition.

Between 1964–68 Caslavska won 19 individual gold medals in the major international competitions compared with 7 for all Soviet gymnasts during this time.

In addition to her gymnastics success, Čáslavská is known for her outspoken support of the Czechoslovak democratization movement and her opposition to the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, she took this protest to the world stage by quietly looking down and away while the Soviet national anthem was played during the medal ceremonies for the balance beam and floor exercise event finals. While Čáslavská's actions were applauded by her countrymen, they resulted in her becoming a persona non grata in the new regime. She was forced into retirement and for many years was denied the right to travel, work and attend sporting events.

Čáslavská's situation improved in the 1980s after the intervention of members of the International Olympic Committee, and after the fall of Communism, her status improved dramatically. During the 1990s she held several positions of honor, including a term as President of the Czech Olympic Committee. As of 2008, she still resides in Prague and has opted to remain largely out of the public eye.

Čáslavská and the Czech team at the 1967 European Championships

Gymnastics career[edit]

Čáslavská and her coach at the 1967 European Championships
Čáslavská in 1967

Born in Prague and originally a figure skater, Čáslavská debuted internationally at the 1958 World Championships, winning a silver medal in the team event. She first participated in the Olympic Games in 1960, also winning a silver medal with the Czechoslovakian team, as well as finishing 6th on the beam. In the beam final she tied for the highest score, but was out of the medals due to a low qualifying mark. Her breakout year was 1961 when she won bronze in the all around at the european championships.By 1962, she fought for the all-around title at the World Championships, held off only by Larisa Latynina.[5][6]

Čáslavská was at her peak at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, winning the overall title and taking gold medals in the balance beam and the vault, in addition to another silver medal in the team event. She would finally win a team gold at the 1966 World Championships, breaking the Soviet monopoly in that event.[6]

Prior to the 1968 Summer Olympics, Caskavska lost her training facility due to the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Instead, she used potato sacks as weights and logs as beams whilst training in the forests of Moravia.

She was again dominant at the 1968 Summer Olympics, winning medals in all six events. She defended her all-around title and won additional gold medals on the floor, uneven bars and vault, as well as two silvers, for the team competition and balance beam.[5][6] Her use of the "Jarabe tapatío" as the music for her floor routine made her immensely popular with the Mexican crowd. Čáslavská was cited as being the most popular female athlete at the Olympics.[7]

Protest at the 1968 Olympics[edit]

Čáslavská's wins at the 1968 Olympics were particularly poignant because of the political turmoil in Czechoslovakia. She had publicly voiced her strong opposition to soviet-style Communism and Soviet invasion, and had signed Ludvik Vaculik's protest manifesto "Two Thousand Words" in the spring of 1968. Consequently, to avoid being arrested, she spent the weeks leading up to the Olympics hiding in the mountain town of Šumperk, and was only granted permission to travel to Mexico City at the last minute.[1][2][8][9]

At the Olympics, where she once again faced Soviet opposition, Čáslavská continued to subtly voice her views. After she appeared to have won the gold medal on floor outright, the judging panel curiously upgraded the preliminary scores of Soviet Larisa Petrik, and declared a tie for the gold instead. All of this occurred on the heels of another very controversial judging decision that cost Čáslavská the gold on beam, instead awarding the title to Soviet rival Natalia Kuchinskaya. Clearly disheartened and angered by the politics that favored the USSR, she protested during both medal ceremonies by quietly turning her head down and away during the playing of the Soviet national anthem.[2][4]

Aftermath[edit]

Čáslavská's countrymen revered her for her brave demonstration on the world's biggest stage. Her federation, however, was none too pleased. For her consistent support of the Czechoslovak democratization movement (the so-called "Prague Spring") in 1968, and during the purges which followed the Soviet-led invasion in August 1968, she was deprived of the right to travel abroad and participate in public sport events both in Czechoslovakia and abroad. Čáslavská was effectively forced into retirement, and was considered a persona non grata for many years in her home country.[10]

Czech authorities refused to publish her autobiography, and insisted that it be heavily censored when it was released in Japan.[8][11] She was granted leave to work as a coach in Mexico, but reportedly only when the Mexican government threatened to cease oil exports to Czechoslovakia.[10][12] In the late 1980s, following pressure from Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the International Olympic Committee, who presented her with the Olympic Order, Čáslavská was finally allowed to work as a gymnastics coach and judge in her home country.[2][10]

Personal life[edit]

Shortly after the 1968 Olympics, Čáslavská married runner Josef Odložil, who had been a silver medalist at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. The ceremony, which took place at the Mexico City Cathedral, drew a crowd of thousands.[8] They had a son, Martin, and daughter, Radka.[2] The couple divorced in 1987.[13] In 1993, her son and ex-husband were involved in an altercation which resulted in Josef's death.[11] Čáslavská fell into depression and was rarely seen in public afterwards.[11] Martin was convicted of his father's murder but was granted a pardon by Václav Havel in 1997.[11]

After the fall of Communism in November 1989 Čáslavská's status improved dramatically. She became President Havel's adviser and Honorary President of the Czech-Japan Association.[10][11] Later, after leaving the President's Office, she was elected President of the Czech Olympic Committee.[1][8] In 1995 she was appointed to the IOC membership committee.

Čáslavská has received many accolades for her contributions to the sport of gymnastics. In addition to the Olympic Order, she was awarded a 1989 Pierre de Coubertin International Fair Play Trophy by UNESCO and was noted at the ceremony for her "exemplary dignity."[14] In 1995, she was honored with the Czech Republic's Medal of Merit[6] She was inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame in 1991[15] and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1998.[4] In 2010, she was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, 3rd class. In 1968, she also was presented a katana and a ceremonial kimono from the Japanese emperor.

As of 2008, Čáslavská resides in Prague, and has opted to remain largely out of the public eye.[8][11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Vera Čáslavská: The heroine of Mexico". International Olympic Committee. Retrieved January 13, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Whatever happened to Vera Čáslavská?". Gymnastics Greats. 1999. Retrieved January 13, 2008. 
  3. ^ Perfect 10 (gymnastics)
  4. ^ a b c "Čáslavská's entry at the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame". International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. Retrieved January 13, 2008. 
  5. ^ a b "Vera Čáslavská". International Gymnast. 2004. Archived from the original on May 8, 2004. Retrieved July 1, 2008. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Bio and list of competitive results at Gymn-Forum". Gymn Forum. Retrieved January 13, 2008. 
  7. ^ "1968 Olympics". International Olympic Committee. Retrieved January 13, 2008. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Cameron, Rob (May 3, 2002). "Czechoslovak sports legend Vera Caslavska celebrates 60th birthday". Czech Radio International. Retrieved January 1, 2008. 
  9. ^ Rendell, Matt (July 4, 2004). "The Perfect Ten". London: The Observer Sport Monthly. Retrieved January 13, 2008. 
  10. ^ a b c d Janofsky, Michael (April 9, 1990). "A Departure From the Past". New York Times. Retrieved January 1, 2008. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Caslavska emerges from 10-year seclusion". Agence France-Presse. May 4, 2007. Archived from the original on June 12, 2011. 
  12. ^ Eskenazi, Gerald (August 2, 1992). "BARCELONA; For Czech Athletes, the Door to Future Games May Have 2 Entrances". New York Times. Retrieved January 1, 2008. 
  13. ^ "Past Olympics Athletes >> Vera Caslavska". ESPN. Agence France-Presse. 2008. 
  14. ^ "Address by Mr. Federico Mayor" (PDF). UNESCO. November 5, 1990. Retrieved January 13, 2008. 
  15. ^ "List of Honorees, International Women's Sports Hall of Fame". International Women's Sports Hall of Fame. Retrieved January 13, 2008. [dead link]

External links[edit]

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Jindřich Poledník
President of the Czech Olympic Committee
1990–1996
Succeeded by
Milan Jirásek