‘If you want to run, run a hundred metres; if you want to experience another life, run a marathon!’
I suspect that this example (of many) of Emil Zátopek’s peasant wit and intelligence came after his second marathon, a laboured run in torrid conditions at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 when, six weeks after an operation he finished an exhausted sixth behind the sole victory over him by his pal Alan Mimoun. Because if you take a look at the numerous videos online of his win in his first marathon, at the Olympic Games in Helsinki 1952, it’s clear that even he can’t believe how easy it is. Having dropped the rest of the field, he rolls his vest up to keep cool, and chats to the cameraman on the adjacent truck while strolling to an Olympic record and his third gold in Helsinki, to add to the one from London 1948.
From a hundred metres to a hundred years.
September 19 will be the centenary of the birth not only of Zátopek but also of his wife Dana Ingrová. Within an hour of Emil’s second gold in Helsinki, in the 5000 metres, Dana’s first throw in the javelin won her an Olympic gold too. Emil’s response went along the lines of, ‘the family contest is too close, I have to win the marathon’. Which tells you something about what a ‘character’ he was. With that victory, he became the only person to win all three distance races – 5000m, 10,000m and Marathon – at the same Olympic Games, a feat unlikely to be repeated.
As the author of one of three books published by Brits alone in 2016 (plenty of other Czech ones over the years), I have also written extensively on Dana and Emil on this blog, and I append a few links below. But the Czech Centre in London, in collaboration with one of the capital’s leading athletics clubs, Thames Valley Harriers has come up with its own initiative to celebrate this year’s centenary.
Two days before the 100th anniversary of Emil’s birth, TVH will stage The Emil Zátopek Run, around Wormwood Scrubs, the park adjacent to the club’s Linford Christie Stadium. The occasion will comprise a 2k run for under-11, a 3k for under-13 and under-15, and a 5k for under-17 and the rest. The objective is to raise funds for the newly minted Zátopek’s Athletic Fellowship, which will be used to support young local athletes from disadvantaged communities. To register for the run, visit https://entry4sports.co.uk