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REMEMBERING EMIL ZATOPEK


PhilBoxing.com




Remember Emil Zatopek, the all-time great Czech long distance runner who ran to an unprecedented Triple Crown in the 1952 Summer Olympic Games held in Helsinki?

Zatopek, the teeth-gnashing, arm-waving Czech Army captain also popularly known as the "Beast of Prague," zoomed past his rivals in claiming the gold medals in the lung-busting 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters and marathon, passed away 15 years ago November 22. He was 78.

His superb performance in the Finland capital city in the year politics reared its ugly head in the Games following Russia's return to the quadrennial conclave after an absence of 40 years, remains, up to this days, the talk of the town in all International Olympic Committee member countries.

Zatopek's show of athletic prowess plus his wife Dana's completing a double whammy that made them the first and only married couple to win Olympic gold medals on the same day in separate events overshadowed the Soviet Union and other Eastern Block campaigners' keeping themselves in a separate Olympic village surrounded by barbed wire and draped with giant images of Stalin.

Zatopek, who spoke six languages, was at the victory podium after receiving his second gold medal, the 5,000 meters, following an earlier win in the 10,000 meters in the meet when he spotted his wife parading along with other participants in the finals of the women's javelin on he way to the field. He left the awarding ceremony and approached Dana, one of the finalists, and showed her his latest gold medal. Dana asked her husband to lend him the software, saying, "Emil let me have it, I will hold it for good luck." Emil handed him the medal.

Dana shattered the Olymic record on her very first throw and held on to win the event the rest of the way. The Zatopeks celebrated their double victory that night and Dana remained exuberant in savoring her triumph in the remaining days of the Games. But not Emil. Emil, who also won the 5,000 meters four years prior in London, appeared bored waiting the for the final day of track and field competitions and the closing ceremonies.

One day in an interview with media men, Zatopek surprisingly announced he' be running in the marathon, an event he never run before. "I think I'll run the marathon," he told the surprised journalists. And true to his words, Zatopek, known also for brutally running 10 to 20 miles a day often on his bulky army boots while training, entered his name as competitor in the 26-mile,385-yard race for the first time in his running carreer.

Before the race the great Czech was told Great Britain' Jim Peters was the heavy favorite to win the race. "So I introduced myself to him and asked him if I can run with him and he nodded."

"The pace in the beginning was very fast. I was so tired and Jim was running like he could do this forever. I asked him, isn't the pace too fast?"

"No, it's too slow, Zatopek related as Peters' answer. "I believe him so, what I did, rather than wait for him, was to run faster leaving him. "I just kept on running and when I entered the stadium, the 80,000 peope were screaming Zaxtopek .... Zatopek .... Zatopek."

"After I crossed the finish line and won my third gold medal, they told me that Jim Peters collapsed from exhaustion along the route and they had to take him to the hospital," Zatopek recalled.

A hero in his native country, Z?topek was an influential figure in the Communist Party. But for supporting 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. He, too, was removed from all important positions and forced to work in a string of inferior and dangerous jobs as in uranium mine, refuse collection service, and well digging. On 9 March 1990, Z?topek was rehabilitated by V?clav Havel.His funeral at Prague's National Theatre was attended by leading figures from the international sports world. 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. A life-size bronze statue of Z?topek was unveiled at the Stadium of Youth in Zl?n in September 2014.

Known for his friendly and gregarious personality, and with the ability to speak several languages, Z?topek was regularly visited at his home in Prague by international athletes he had befriended at competitions, like British rival Gordon Pirie.

Emil and Dana were the witnesses at the wedding ceremony of Olympic gold medalists Olga Fikotov? and Harold Connolly in Prague in 1957. This, after Emil requested Czechoslovak president Anton?n Z?potock? in getting national heroine Olga a permit to marry the American Connolly, at the height of the Cold War.In 1968, Z?topek invited the Australian Ron Clarke to visit his home. Clarke held many middle distance track and field world records but fallen short in winning an Olympic gold medal. At the end of the visit, Z?topek gave his 10,000 m gold medal from the 1952 Olympics to Clarke.

Photo: Zatopek on way to winning the 5,000 meters.


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eddie Alinea.


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