Emil Zátopek

Emil Zátopek

Emil Zátopek ( Audio-IPA|Cs-Emil Zatopek.ogg| [ˈɛmɪl ˈzaːtopɛk] ) (September 19, 1922 – November 22, 2000) was a Czech athlete probably best known for his amazing feat of winning three gold medals in athletics at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. He won gold in the 5 km and 10 km runs, but his final medal came when he decided at the last minute to compete in the first marathon of his life.

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, Czechoslovakia on September 19, 1922, as the sixth child of a modest family. When Zátopek was 16, he began working in a 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." [ [http://www.runnersworld.com/dailyquotearchive/1,5429,s6-187-0-0-0-21-713,00.html "Runner's World" quote webpage] ] 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 meters. He was selected for the Czech national team for the 1946 European Championships. He 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 in London, winning the 10 km (his second race at that distance) and finishing second behind Gaston Reiff from Belgium 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 (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. Two weeks before the 1956 Summer Olympics, Zátopek had a hernia operation, but nevertheless finished sixth in the Olympic marathon. Zátopek retired from athletics after the next season.

At the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki Zátopek won gold in the 5 km and 10 km runs, but 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. 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, now second after being overtaken by Zátopek, tripped on the curb and fell.

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 ice-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, he was removed from all important positions and forced to work in a uranium mine as punishment. Zátopek died in Prague, after a long illness, in 2000 at the age of 78. He was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal posthumously in December 2000.

Family life

His wife Dana Zátopková (born the same day as her husband) was an outstanding athlete in her own right in the javelin throw. She won the gold medal in the javelin in the 1952 Summer Olympics and the silver medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics.


*"Great is the victory, but the friendship is all the greater."
*"Essentially, we distinguish ourselves from the rest. If you want to win something, run the 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon."
*"I was not talented enough to run and smile at the same time."
*"It's at the borders of pain and suffering that the men are separated from the boys."
*Upon winning: "But it was the finest exhaustion I've ever felt."
*Emil Zátopek on interval training, "Everyone said, 'Emil, you are a fool!' But when I first won the European Championship, they said: 'Emil, you are a genius!'"
*When asked about his tortured expression during races, Emil Zátopek said, "It is not gymnastics or ice skating, you know."


External links

* [http://www.runningpast.com/emil_zatopek.htm Running Past profile of Zatopek]
* [http://www.runningpast.com/media/zatopek_5k_large.wmv Archive Video of 5 km Olympic run from Runningpast.com]
*Find A Grave|id=22312|name=Emil Zatopek
* [http://www.kdays.com/2008/01/22/top-10-running-quotes/ Top 10 Running Quotes] at www.kdays.com

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Emil Zatopek — n. (1922 2000) Czech track and field athlete and winner of four Olympic medals for long distance running …   English contemporary dictionary

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