Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Emil Zátopek and Dana Zátopková

Yesterday, 19 September, was 100 years since Czech athletes Emil Zátopek and Dana Zátopková were born.  

No, they weren't twins.  They were husband and wife.  They just happened to have been born on the same day in 1922.

They were the track and field power couple of Czechoslovakia.

Dana Ingrová was a college handball player who led the Czechoslovak handball team to a national title.  Later she became the first Czech woman to throw a javelin over 40 metres which qualified her for the 1948 London Olympics.

Emil Zátopek worked at the Baťa shoe factory in Zlín.  He served in the army as a runner.  He gained fame for riding a bicycle from Prague to Berlin a won a 5000-metre race in an Allied Occupation meet.

The two met when Emil congratulated Dana on qualifying for the Olympics and they discovered that they had the same birthday.  At the 1948 Olympics, Emil won the gold medal in the 10.000 metre race and the silver medal in the 5.000 metre race while Dana placed 7th in the javelin throw.  They got married shortly after the Olympics.  

At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Dana set an Olympic record for the javelin and became the first Czech woman to win an Olympic gold medal.  


Emil won three gold medals for the 5.000 metres, 10.000 metres, and the marathon.  He decided at the last minute to compete in the marathon, the first marathon of his life, and he won.  To this date he is still the only person to win all three races at the same Olympics.  He gained the nickname of the "Czech Locomotive".

Emil retired after placing 6th at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.  Dana placed 4th in Melbourne but won the silver medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

The Communist party promoted him as a national hero.  However, he supported the Prague Spring and vocally opposed the 1968 Soviet-led invasion.  As a consequence he was expelled from the Communist Party, stripped of his rank and kicked out of the army.  He was not allowed to hold any important position and was forced to perform manual labour including work in a mine.  After the Velvet Revolution he was removed from the "bad list" and fully welcomed back to Czechoslovak society.

In 1998, he was awarded the Medal of Merit, First Grade.

Between Dana and Emil they broke 35 world records.  Dana received the Olympic Order for distinguished contributions to the Olympic movement.  In 2012, Emil was one of the first 12 athletes to be inducted into the IAAF Hall of Hame and in 2013, the editors at Runner's World Magazine named him as the Greatest Runner of All Time.

In 1995 he appeared in an Adidas commercial.

Emil and Dana were married for 52 years.  He passed away in 2000 at the age of 78 while she passed away in 2020 at the age of 97.

In 2021, the movie Zátopek was released.  I still need to see it but it won 8 Czech Lions.  Here's the movie trailer that I found on YouTube.

©Falcon filmové novinky

Here's a 4-minute CNN piece they did in 2012 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Emil's win in Helsinki.  It includes an interview with Dana.


Yesterday's animated Google Doodle honoured the Zátopeks but it could only be seen in Czechland, Slovakia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Iceland.  Not sure why only these five countries, and not even Finland, but I'm sure that Google had a reason.

Happy 100th birthday to Emil Zátopek and Dana Zátopková!!

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