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
‘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.
‘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
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