A new-born baby gets a splash of water on the brow; a ship gets launched with a bottle of bubbly broken on the prow. And a new book gets the same – a shower of champagne on the cover. At least it does in the Czech Republic. This was a new one on me; and every other foreigner I spoke to. But apparently it’s a venerable tradition in Czecho.
It might ruin a book, but it’s a great photo-op.
Thanks to the initiative of Carlo Capalbo and his team at the Prague International Marathon, I was in the Czech capital yesterday (Tuesday) for the local launch of QUICKSILVER, The Mercurial Emil Zátopek. The guest of honour was due to be Emil’s widow, Dana, also an Olympic gold medallist, in the javelin in Helsinki 1952 – when Zátopek won his unrepeatable distance treble – but last week Dana, aged 94, fell and broke her hip, so we went straight from the book launch to the hospital in Prague 8, where she is recovering, in order to present her with a signed copy.
Here’s another extract from QUICKSILVER, recounting what Dana – also an Olympic silver medallist, from Rome 1960 – described as one of the greatest moments of her life.
In the years after her Olympic victory in 1952, she twice won the European title, in 1954 and 1958, and became the oldest woman to set a world record in the javelin when she threw 55.73 metres at home in Strahov Stadium, Prague, just short of her 36th birthday. Two years later, she was never close to winning in Rome but, again, just over two weeks short of her 38th birthday, she became the oldest Olympic medallist in the javelin when she outdid herself by adding silver to her gold medal of eight years earlier.
Family friend and TV journalist Štěpán Škorpil remembered Dana’s post-Rome satisfaction at having finally one-upped her celebrated partner. “He (Emil) was number one for everyone in the country, not just the people who like sport, but for everyone in the factories, in the offices…. if Emil was going for a discussion at a factory or at a school, there was no work done, it was ‘Emil, our Emil’. Every time, Dana was one step behind, it was ‘Emil, and his wife’. But after Rome 1960, they return in south Moravia, where Dana grew up, there was a big reception, and Dana used to say, ‘for me it was absolutely super, because the commentator said, ‘We welcome two-time Olympic medallist, Dana Zátopková…. and her husband’.”