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Emil Zátopek
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Emil Zátopek

Emil Zátopek (September 19, 1922 - November 22, 2000) was a Czech athlete and Olympic gold medalist in long distance running. Zátopek was the first athlete to break the 29 minute barrier in the 10 000 m run (in 1954). Three years earlier, in 1951, he had broken the hour for running 20 km.

Born in Kopřivnice;, Emil Zátopek is probably best known for his amazing feat in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki of winning three gold medals in running. He won gold for the 5000 m and the 10 000 m run, but his final medal came when he decided at the last minute to compete in the marathon event for the first time in his life and won. In each event, he also broke Olympic records.

Zátopek came into international athletics field at the 1948 Summer Olympics, by winning the 10 000 m (his second race on that distance) and coming second after Gaston Reiff from Belgium in 5000 m.

At the next year, Zátopek broke the 10 000 m world record twice and broke his own record in three occasions over the next four seasons. He also broke the 5000 m record (1954), 20 km record (twice in 1951), One hour running record (twice in 1951), 25 km record (1952 and 1955) and 30 km record (1952).

He won the 5000 m and 10 000 m at the 1950 European Championships and 10 000 m at the next European Championships. Two weeks before the 1956 Summer Olympics, Zátopek had an hernia operation, but nevertheless finished sixth at the Olympic marathon. Zátopek retired from athletics after the next season.

Zátopek was known for panting heavily whenever he ran, and this became his symbol. He was often called the "Czech Locomotive" as a result.

A hero in his native country, Zátopek was an influential figure in the Communist Party. However, he supported the party's democratic wing, and after the Prague Spring, he was removed from all important positions and forced to work in a uranium mine as punishment. Emil Zátopek died in Prague, after a long-lasting illness at the age of 78.

His wife Dana Zátopková (born in exactly the same day as her husband) was an outstanding athlete in her own right in throwing the javelin. She won the gold medal for javelin in the 1952 Summer Olympics, and the silver medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics.

See also: list of Slavs.

Olympic Champions in Men's Marathon
Spiridon Louis | Michel Théato; | Thomas Hicks | William Sherring | Johnny Hayes | Kenneth McArthur | Hannes Kolehmainen | Albin Stenroos | Boughera El Ouafi | Juan Carlos Zabala | Sohn Kee-chung | Delfo Cabrera | Emil Zátopek; | Alain Mimoun | Abebe Bikila (2 times) | Mamo Wolde | Frank Shorter | Waldemar Cierpinski (2 times) | Carlos Lopes | Gelindo Bordin | Hwang Young-Cho | Josia Thugwane | Gezahegne Abera