Emil Zátopek




Emil Zátopek was an outstanding long distance runner during the 1940s and 1950s. He is most famous for his triple gold medal performance in the 1952 Summer Olympics held in Helsinki, Finland. There, he was first in the 5,000-m and 10,000-m events and, in his first attempt at distance running, the marathon.

Born in Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic, Zátopek began his running career in 1940, at the age of 16. Then, he was employed at a Bata shoe factory. The company sponsored a 1,500 m race, which Zátopek entered. Having never trained before, he finished second out of 100 competitors. His interest in running was sparked.

Only four years later, he broke his country's records for 2,000 m, 3,000 m, and 5,000 m events. In 1946, he was a member of the Czech national track and field team that competed at the European Championships. There, he finished fifth in the 5,000 m in a national record time.

Zátopek truly came into international prominence at the 1948 Olympics in London, England, where he won the gold medal in the 10,000 m (only the second time he had raced at that distance) and the silver medal in the 5,000 m.

This began a remarkable decade of running. In 1949, Zátopek twice set new world records at 10,000 m. He bettered his own record three more times during the next four years. In 1949, he won eleven 10,000 m races in succession, part of a streak of thirty-eight consecutive 10,000 m victories. During the 1950s, he established world records at 5,000 m (in 1954), 20 km (two times during 1951), 25 km (in 1952 and 1955), and 30 km (in 1952).

Zátopek was the first person to run 10,000 m in less than 29 minutes. As well, during 1951, he twice established world records for the distance run during 60 minutes, exceeding 20 km each time (a pace of 3 minutes per kilometer, or slightly over 4.5 minutes per mile).

His triple gold medal-winning effort in the 1952 Olympics was all the more remarkable as it came after he had been advised by a doctor not to compete due to possible lingering effects of a gland infection two months earlier. His 10,000 m victory was impressive; he passed all but two runners in the field during the race and won by 50 m. Three days later, in the 5,000 m, he came from 50 m behind in the final lap to win by several meters. Finally, he won the marathon by more than 2.5 minutes; his winning time of 2 hours, 23 minutes, 3 seconds was an Olympic record.

His three victories came within a span of eight days. And, on the afternoon when Zátopek captured the 5,000 m, his wife Dana won a gold medal for the Czech Republic in the javelin throw.

The 1956 Olympics held in Melbourne, Australia, was Zátopek's last. Running the marathon only weeks after a hernia operation, he finished sixth. The following year, he retired from competition.

In his last year of life his health declined, and he was hospitalized for a broken hip and pneumonia. Following a stroke on October 30, he was hospitalized yet again, where he died on November 22 at the age of 78.

He received full state honors at his funeral, which was attended by thousands of Czech citizens.

At only 5 ft 8 in (1.7 m) and 145 lb (65.7 kg), Zátopek had an unusual running style. In contrast to the smooth and steady cadence of most other elite runners, he ran in a style that even today is considered to be inefficient. His head would roll

Emil Zátopek (right, shown here winning an event in the 1952 Olympics) was the first triple Olympic record holder, taking gold in the 5000 m, 10,000 m, and marathon events.
and his upper body would pivot horizontally about his waist as he ran. As well, he often grimaced and made loud wheezing and panting noises during a race. The latter noises earned him the nicknames "The Czech Locomotive" and "bouncing Czech."

However at odds with running dogma Zátopek's running style may have been, his results spoke volumes about his excellence as a runner. Moreover, his training regimen, which consisted of running laps at near-race speed, introduced the concept of speed-work into track training.