Celebrating Emil Zatopek, the greatest distance runner in Olympic history
Most history buffs are familiar with September 19th’s significance, but for those uninitiated, the mid-fall date has a special place in the heart of athletes everywhere — it’s the birthdate of Emil Zatopek, the greatest distance runner in Olympic history. Born on September 19th, 1922 in Koprivnice, Czech Republic, the legendary runner is unforgettable; most notably for his three gold medals during the 1952 games in Helsinki.
He’s the only runner to win the 5,000, 10,000, and marathon at a single Olympics — a nearly untouchable achievement — and is additionally credited with pioneering both the interval and hypoventilation training methods. Although he sadly passed away in 2000, Zatopek’s contributions to the sport are far from forgotten. In an article originally posted by The Economist this June, they summarize what made Zatopek such a great athlete and person both on and off the track:
“Few athletes are good enough to win an Olympic gold medal. Few people are brave enough to stand up to a tyrannical regime. Emil Zatopek did both. The “Czech Locomotive” was the greatest long-distance runner of his era, and arguably of all time. He won four golds and a silver at the 1948 and 1952 games in London and Helsinki, including the treble of the 5,000 metres, 10,000 metres and marathon at the latter—an achievement that has never been matched.
The Helsinki marathon was his first ever race at that distance; he broke the Olympic record by six minutes. But equally famous were Zatopek’s generosity and courage. In sport, that meant sharing training tips with whoever asked, pushing himself harder than anybody had before, and giving away one of his medals to an athlete he thought more deserving. Beyond running, he was known for welcoming travellers into his modest home in Prague, and publicly criticising the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 at great personal risk.”
For millennials outside of track and field, Zatopek is likely a foreign name to them, but we’d recommend reading up on his incredible journey and watching some of his incredible highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmiPIstRZj4 Do yourself a favor, watch these highlights, get inspired, and then celebrate his birthday the best way you can! Go for a run and give back to your sport and community the same way Zatopek did.
Happy 94th birthday, Emil!