Those of you kind enough and interested enough to read my blog regularly in the past will have noticed that it has diminished almost to vanishing point over the last two years. There are several reasons for this, but the principal one is that I have been spending a lot of time in Prague and elsewhere in the Czech Republic, researching the life of the great Emil Zátopek.
It has been a fascinating journey which, I suppose began decades ago, when I started running myself, shortly after Zátopek retired. However, the reason for this surge back into print is to announce that my book on if not the greatest distance runner of all time, then the greatest influence on distance running in history, should be hitting the airwaves in around three months’ time.
It is called QUICKSILVER, The Mercurial Emil Zátopek. And in the unlikely event that you know nothing of the man who stands astride 20th century distance running, that title will give you a bit of a flavour. Because not only was Zátopek a great athlete, he was also one of the most ebullient characters in the history of our sport.
For the record, and that is also the appropriate term, Zátopek won four Olympic gold medals, three European titles; and set no fewer than eighteen world records. But his overarching achievement was to win all three distance titles – the 5000 and 10,000 metres on the track, and then the marathon at his first attempt at the distance – at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. That this will never be repeated is one of the many things in Zátopek’s life and career that I explore and (attempt to) explain in some detail. As for his enduring influence, Zátopek reinvented long distance running, and developed a training system still used widely today.
I was fortunate enough to meet Emil Zátopek a couple of times, almost two decades ago, shortly before his death, in 2000. They were entertaining and intriguing interviews, as befits a man who brought such joy to his beleaguered compatriots during decades of Occupation, first by the Nazis, and then by the Soviet Union whose henchmen in Prague made life so miserable for Czechoslovaks everywhere.
And I stray into political territory here, because that is what Zátopek himself did, when he so famously joined the resistance to the Soviet forces who rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1968, to suppress the liberalisation movement known as the Prague Spring. That Zátopek was a long-term army officer made his participation in the resistance all the more welcome to his compatriots and all the more painful for the oppressors, who ensured that when resistance collapsed under the Soviet onslaught, Zátopek would find himself drummed out of the army and exiled from Prague for six years to work in menial jobs as a labourer.
I have been given unprecedented access to his widow, Dana Zátopková, herself an Olympic gold medallist; and introductions to men who trained and raced with Zátopek as far back as the early 1940s, when his own career began. I also sought out many other people involved in his life and career. This and much more will be available to read when QUICKSILVER, The Mercurial Emil Zátopek is published, soon!
(pic is provisional cover)
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