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.
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.
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.
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!
their 1982 book Fast Tracks - The History of Distance Running
authors Raymond Krise and Bill Squires describe the 1952 Olympic
5,000 Meter Final:
lap: Schade, Chataway, Mimoun, along with Zátopek who is
in agony. One of these will win; the rest are dead or dying. At
the sound of the bell Zátopek punches maniacally, leaping
the entourage in a single bound, his eyes barely visible under
his brow's furrows. He can't shake his attackers! The strategic
kick gains him NOTHING, costs him nearly everything.
In 100 meters
Chataway sails past him, Schade in his shadow. 200 meters from
the medals Chataway, Schade, Mimoun run inside each others shorts.
Zátopek is two meters behind them, his speed unequal to
their's, his massive strength drained. Schade asserts his right
to the lead. Chataway disputs it, taking command heading into
the final turn. The crowd is frantic, howling wildly.
Then the howls
coalesce. They are screaming Zá-to-PEK! Zá-to-PEK!
From deep within, the Czech Locomotive has summonded the courage
of the angels! Chataway, who in two years will push Bannister
through the 4-minute barrier, leans hard into the turn, balancing
himself for a devastating sprint. It never comes. Zátopek
springs like Blake's tyger, his jaws slavering, his driving leg
pummeling the dirt track. Panicked by Zátopek's fury, Schade
and Mimoun blast past Chataway.
It's too late.
Zátopek is all over them and away, his upper and lower
bodies almost going in different directions as he powers through
the turn far wider than any of the others. Chataway, passed by
three different men in the space of four footsteps, brushes against
the turn's pole and crashes to the track.
face is crucified with noble effort, his eyes closed, his mouth
agape. Mimoun claws the air with arm thrusts, as if to grasp Zátopek's
singlet and halt him. Schade in third, glares angrily through
his eyeglasses, his top speed gaining him naught on Zátopek's
The Beast of
Prague breaks the tape, after breaking the field, in 14:06.6.
Mimoun crosses second in 14:07.4. Schade, third, in 14:08.6. Zátopek
takes nearly 9 seconds off Schade's still wet Olympic record.
The final lap takes 57.9 seconds, and many years of pain and determination.
has his 5K gold. The
rest of him is steel.
You can download
a video of this race on our Vintage
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
Emil Zátopek - World Record Performances
May 30, 1954
June 1, 1954
November 1, 1953
August 4, 1950
October 22, 1949
June 11, 1949
by Emil Zatopek
today we die a little."
Emil Zatopek at the start of the 1956 Olympic Marathon.
should I practice running slow? I already know how to run slow.
I want to learn to run fast."
a person trains once, nothing happens. When a person forces himself
to do a thing a hundred or a thousand times, then he certainly
has developed in more ways than physical.
Is it raining? That doesn't matter. Am I tired? That doesn't matter,
Then willpower will be no problem."
must run with dreams in his heart, not money in his pocket."
of a performance which I cannot beat is merely stupid vanity.
And if I can beat it that means there is nothing special about
has passed is already finished with.
What I find more interesting is what is still to come."
our bodies to the benefit of mechanical leisure. We act continuously
with our brain, but we no longer use our bodies, our limbs. It
is the Africans who possess this vitality, this muscular youth,
this thirst for physical action which we are lacking. We have
a magnificent motor at our disposal, but we no longer know how
to use it."
is a great advantage in training under unfavorable conditions.
It is better to train under bad conditions, for the difference
is then a tremendous relief in a race."
you want to win something, run 100 meters.
If you want to experience something, run a marathon."
can't climb up to the second floor without a ladder....When you
set your aim too high and don't fulfill it, then your enthusiasm
turns to bitterness.
Try for a goal that's reasonable, and then gradually raise it."
all those dark days of the war, the bombing, the killing, the
starvation, the revival of the Olympics was as if the sun had
come out....I went into the Olympic Village and suddenly there
were no more frontiers, no more barriers. Just the people meeting
together. It was wonderfully warm. Men and women who had just
lost five years of life were back again."
Emil Zatopek, about the 1948 London Olympics.
describes his marathon win at the Helsinki Olympics,
"I was unable to walk for a whole week after that, so much
did the race take out of me.
But it was the most pleasant exhaustion I have ever known."
come to think of it, you never see deer, dogs and
rabbits worrying about their menus and yet they run much faster
about his tortured expression during races,
Emil Zatopek said, "It is not gymnastics or ice skating you
are three things worth living for:
American luxury, Japanese women and Chinese food,"
Emil Zatopek said, joking.
I was young, I was too slow. I thought I must learn to run fast
by practicing to run fast, so I ran 100 meters fast 20 times.
Then I came back, slow,slow,slow. People said, 'Emil, you are
crazy. You are training like a sprinter.'"
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!'"
at the borders of pain and suffering that the men are separated
from the boys."
everything wrong but win."
Larry Snyder, Ohio State track coach, about Emil Zatopek's contorted
style of running.
is the victory, but the friendship is all the greater."
Johnny A. Kelley (The Elder)
Johnny J. Kelley (The Younger)
Johnny running for BU
Andrew Yelenak - portfolio