Current Affairs Czechoslovak sports legend Vera Caslavska celebrates 60th birthday

03-05-2002 | Rob Cameron

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Vera Caslavska, photo: Ron Kroon / Anefo, CC 3.0 licenseVera Caslavska, photo: Ron Kroon / Anefo, CC 3.0 license One of Czechoslovakia's most famous sportswomen - the gymnast Vera Caslavska - celebrates her 60th birthday today. Caslavska shot to fame in 1964, winning a total of three gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics. At the next Olympics, in Mexico City, she won a total of four gold medals, and a few weeks after the Games she married cross-country skier Josef Odlozil in a ceremony at Mexico City Cathedral that drew 100,000 people.

Later that year she was voted World Sportswoman of the Year as well as the world's second most popular woman, pipped to the post by Jackie Kennedy. Caslavska signed the "two thousand words" petition against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, an act which earned her internal exile at the hands of the Communist regime, preventing her from training or appearing in public.

After the 1989 overthrow of Communism, Caslavska held a number of posts, including advisor to President Vaclav Havel, chairwoman of the Czech Olympic Committee and a member of the IOC. Her personal life was the source of great pain and anguish, however: she divorced Odlozil in 1987, six years later her son Martin was sent to prison for stabbing his father to death at a disco. Martin Odlozil was later pardoned by President Havel, but the tragedy left Vera Caslavska severely depressed and she went into psychiatric care in 1998.

Today she lives quietly in Prague, and rarely appears in public. She's declined to attend any of the celebrations planned for her 60th birthday, saying she wants to spend the day quietly with her children. "Medals just remind me of my youth," she said on withdrawing from public life in 1999: "human values are more important."

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