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Ten years ago: Emil Zatopek

Zta Emil Zatopek, a Czech distance runner who won gold medals in three events at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, died 10 years ago. He was 78. (Early reports from Prague said he died Nov. 21, but most subsequent accounts give Nov. 22 as his date of death.)

After winning the 10,000 meters in Helsinki, Zatopek was asked why he wanted to run the 5,000 just four days later. "The marathon contest won't be for a long time yet," he said, "so I simply must do something until then."

Zatopek was a dramatic figure on the track, according to the Times obituarywritten by the late Earl Gustkey:

"He ran with the facial expressions of a man undergoing torture. His head lolled about, from side to side and back to front, his face contorted in a series of pained, eyes-shut expressions."

Traveling one of the bleaker paths of Soviet heroism, Zatopek returned home to promotions in the Czech army and in the Communist Party. But his tepid commitment to the party got him sent to labor in a uranium mine, then to drive a sprinkler truck for the Prague sanitation department. Eventually he got a reprieve, working as a "sports spy" until he retired. After the Velvet Revolution, he was celebrated nationally again in what became the Czech Republic.

In addition to the obit, The Times ran coverage of Zatopek's funeral at the ornate National Theater in Prague.

-- Michael Owen

Photo: Emil Zatopek, shown winning the Olympic 10,000 meters in London in 1948, set 18 world records. Credit: Associated Press

 
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