The Bouncing Czech - The Greatest Runner Ever?November 18th, 2010
The Bouncing Czech - The Greatest Runner Ever?
Emil Zátopek (1922-2000)
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One of the greatest runners of the 20th Century, Emil Zátopek achieved legendary status when he won the 5,000, the 10,000 and the marathon at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki.
"The Locomotive" or the "Bouncing Czech" as he came to be known, dominated long distance running from 1948 until 1954 when he won a remarkable 38 consecutive 10,000 meter races, including 11 in 1949 alone. He set 18 world records over various distances including every record from 5K to 30K, and won four Olympic gold medals and one silver.
He was the first to run a 10K under 29 minutes and the first to run 20K in one hour.
Emil Zátopek was born in Koprivnice, Czechoslovakia on September 19, 1922, the 6th child of a modest family. At age 16 he began working at the Bata shoe factory in Ziln. In 1940 Bata sponsored a 1,500m race, and he was persuaded to enter even though he had no training. Out of the field of 100 Emil finished second and he began to take a serious interest in the sport.
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.
The 5-foot-8, 145 pound athlete made his Olympic debut at the 1948 London Games. He was 26 years old with little international racing experience, yet he won the 10,000 and was second in the 5,000.
Emil married Dana Ingrova, fellow Czech team member shortly after the Olympics. Dana and Emil shared the same birthday, September 19th, and they married on that day in 1948. Dana competed in the javelin and won gold in 1952 and silver in 1960.
"The Nickel, the Dime, and the Big One"
In 1952 at the Helsinki Olympics Emil achieved the impossible. Despite a doctor's warning that he shouldn't compete due to a gland infection two months before, he won the 5,000m, the 10,000m and the marathon, all in a span of eight days. He set a new Olympic record in all three events, and he had never run a marathon before!
In 1955 Zatopek set the last two of his world records, for 15 miles and 25,000 meters. In 1956 he retired from competition after finishing sixth in the marathon at the Melbourne Olympics. He had a hernia operation six weeks before the games.
Emil is credited with revolutionalizing running and training. He developed intense interval workouts that have become the standard today.
In 1998 Emil was awarded the Order of the White Lion, a national honor presented to him by Czech President Vaclav Havel.
During the last year of his life he had spent time in the hospital due to pneumonia and a broken hip. He died November 22, 2000 at age 78 after being admitted to Prague's Military Hospital following a stroke on October 30th. Thousands attended the funeral of the Czech Republic's greatest athlete.