Z is for Zátopek

We wrap up our celebration of the competition in Rio with a salute to one of the greatest competitors of all time, Emil Zátopek. The Czechoslovakian long-distance runner took home three golds at the 1952 games in Helsinki – in the 5,000 metres, the 10,000 metres and in the marathon. The final victory is the most startling when it’s considered Zátopek had never run a marathon before. He entered the contest at the last minute because his wife (javelin thrower Dana Zátopková) had taken two golds at the games and he fancied beating her tally.

Named the Greatest Runner of All Time by Runner’s World in 2013, he remains the only person to win the 5,000, 10,000 and marathon in the same games. Zátopek was nicknamed the “Czech Locomotive” and returned home a national hero, but he was cast into virtual exile by the ruling Soviet forces after taking an active part in the 1968 uprising known as the Prague Spring.

Zátopek was stripped of his honours and sent to work in a uranium mine, then as a refuse collector, and then a well-digger. Only in 1990 was he rehabilitated by Czech president Vaclav Havel. Zátopek died in 2000 at the age of 78 but his memory lives on at these games – every Czech athlete competing in Rio wore a Zátopek symbol on their vest.


September 30, 2017