The Mercurial Emil Zátopek
An old man with ruddy features and gleaming eyes opened the door, beamed, and beckoned us in. He welcomed us in English, French and Czech, and led us through the narrow corridor, strewn with bikes, boxes and bottles, until we got to a bright, homely kitchen where his wife was preparing a pot of coffee to accompany the plate of open-sandwiches waiting on the table. She greeted us with equal warmth. Later, I would hear this welcome characterised as typical Wallachian hospitality, in the Moravian style chalet that the pair had built for themselves on the edge of this ‘foreign’ capital of Prague.
There was nothing on the walls and cabinets to indicate that this was one of the most successful couples in Olympic history – who had once won four gold medals between them in the same week, two inside half an hour. But, as
I was to discover, neither of them had much time for trophies; they had given most of them away, including one of the best and brightest, an Olympic gold medal, in one of the most selfless acts of generosity and appreciation as it is
possible to imagine.
While my interpreter exchanged pleasantries with his wife, the old man sidled up to my shoulder and quietly suggested, in a surprisingly thin voice, that I might want to forego the coffee, and dive straight into a bottle of Pilsner. It was 9.30am. Since I had long taken an oath of abstinence – until 8pm in the evening – as much as to offset the well-earned accusation of alcoholic indulgence which accompanies the journalist worldwide, as to preserve a degree of coherence, I demurred. I have still not forgotten this slight to our host, but I regret even more than I cannot boast that I once drank with Emil Zátopek.
‘Pat Butcher is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable athletics writers around…. this is certainly the first biography of Zátopek – by my count the fifth so far – to tell the full story’ – Bob Phillips, Former BBC commentator and Editor of Track Stats.
‘There have already been two admirable biographies of Emil Zátopek published this year, and this third offering is of a similarly high standard of writing and research. Pat Butcher, a distinguished and long serving athletics journalist, has one clear advantage over the other authors…. in that he actually met the great man on a number of occasions, adding to his insight on the subject. Also, Butcher was a nationally ranked runner… Zátopek was always an inspirational figure for Butcher, but this is a warts-and-all profile, not afraid to be critical when appropriate.’
Mel Watman, Editor, Athletics International.
‘…draws on the author’s experience as both an athlete and an athletics journalist and includes some sharp political insight.‘ – Huw Richards, The Guardian
‘A superbly well-researched and beautifully written account of an athletics legend’ – Jason Henderson, Editor, Athletics Weekly
‘A most delightful read, both informative and informal, yet at the same time intimate. Obviously written with great empathy for the main character and for his sport.’ – Basil Heatley, Olympic marathon silver medallist and world record holder.
‘(does) a wonderful job of acquainting the reader with the charismatic and colorful character behind the legend.’
Rich Benyo, Editor, Marathon & Beyond.
‘This is a valuable book for those who have read one of the more conventional biographies… it provides original material and gives a vivid picture of Emil Zátopek’s unique personality. Highly recommended.’ – John Cobley, Racing Past
The Perfect Distance, Ovett & Coe: The Record Breaking Rivalry
‘A quarter of a century ago, Britain was a nation divided. It was not the split between those who loved the newly elected Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with a strange passion, and those who hated her with visceral contempt. It was the not the ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. It was not the traditional rift between the north and the south. But it was all of those things, and more. It was Steve Ovett versus Sebastian Coe.’
Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe presided over the golden era of British athletics. Between them, they won three Olympic gold medals, two silvers and one bronze, and set seventeen world records. They were part of the landscape of the late 1970s and early 1980s, both household names, whose exploits were watched by millions. Before an age of video, satellite and digital television news channels. BBC and ITV evening news bulletins were often interrupted to accomodate their races live, and other breaking news of them.
The pendulum of success swung between the pair of them for over a decade, each breaking the other’s records, and memorably triumphing in each other’s favourite event, in their big showdown at the Olympic Games in Moscow, which boasted the largest viewing figures in history for an athletics event. Their names were, and will remain inextricably linked.
“… treading in his footprints, before the dust could settle there” – a Homeric rivalry.
“Outstanding” – Irish Times
“…the author brilliantly recaptures the dramatic tension between these two giants of the track” – Sunday Telegraph
“.. their fierce rivalry transformed their clashes at the Olympics into unmissable events”. – Economist
“A magnificent book” – El Païs
“If ever an athletics track was graced by geniuses, these were the pair. Hopefully this account of their long rivalry will soon be translated into French” – Libération
“Written as meticulously as the runners’ preparation or their record breaking rivalry on the track” – Observer
“A beautifully researched account” – Independent
“A superb book” – Athletics International
“A masterpiece” – The Winged Foot
Buy The Perfect Distance from Amazon UK
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The Destiny Of Ali Mimoun
A Monograph on Alain Mimoun
“There were two railway bridges on the course; one was about a kilometre from the finish, and the other around 12 kilometres (seven and a half miles). I was out of it, I got to the bridge at 12 kilometres, and thought it was the one at one kilometre, I said to myself, ‘I’m Olympic champion’! But then I saw the road stretching out three kilometres ahead, and realised my mistake. It’s at points like that, if you’ll excuse the expression, that you need balls”.
Alain Mimoun’s life story is the stuff of legend. And if the story doesn’t measure up, he can embellish it into legend himself. Enlisting as a teenage soldier, he suffered acute hunger and freezing cold, escaped an explosive death on at least two occasions, was saved from amputation by a storm; and then when he began running, had to confront perhaps the greatest distance runner in history. But Mimoun’s persistence pays off. He finally wins an Olympic title at the age of 35.
Price, incl post & packing: GB/Ireland £4.99 – US/Other $9.99