And now it's time for the latest edition of Czechs in History, in which Nick Carey takes a look at one of the greatest athletes of all time, a miner's son who became the very embodiment of the Olympic ideal: Emil Zatopek.
Emil Zatopek is a legend in the Czech Republic. He is also a legend in sporting history. No man before him, or since, has ever managed to better his achievements. At the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, he won gold medals for the 5,000 metres, the 10,000 metres and the marathon, all within the space of eight days, which one commentator has compared to scaling mounts Everest, McKinley and Kilimanjaro all in one summer. For many people around the world, he embodied the Olympic ideal, and he's still revered by the Czech people today. Despite his international fame, however, he was forced to work in the uranium mines and as a labourer after he publicly condemned the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and it was not until the early 1980s that he was rehabilitated.
Emil Zatopek was born in the Northern Moravian village of Koprivnice on September 19th, 1922, the son of a local miner. He began running at a late age, around the age of seventeen or eighteen, and his career was interrupted by the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia by the Nazis and the outbreak of the Second World War.
The end of the Second World War found Emil Zatopek serving as a junior officer in the Czechoslovak army, where he started training again as a runner. He began to make a name for himself with a gold medal in the 10,000 metres at the 1948 Olympic Games, but it was not until the Helsinki Olympic Games in 1952 that the world sat up and took notice. Now aged thirty, and supposedly beyond his physical prime, Emil Zatopek got off to a grand start at the games with a gold in the 5,000 metres:
But the glory of his achievement had not gone to his head. According to one of Emil's friends and fellow sportsmen, Karel Pilny, the head of the Czech Athletics Association, people were wrong in thinking that Emil Zatopek was just a great athlete:
As a result, Emil Zatopek was stripped of his rank of colonel, was fired from the ministry, and spent the next three years working in a uranium mine. Karel Pilny says Emil Zatopek felt he had to speak out in 1968:
Most Czechs over a certain age can talk at great length about Emil Zatopek. But what about the younger generation? Nowadays, says sports journalist Petr Soucek, only the best Czech athletes want to follow in Zatopek's footsteps:
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