Zatopek's grimaces hid supremely efficient style
Posted: Sunday August 8, 2004 10:17PM; Updated: Sunday August 8, 2004 10:17PM
ATHENS, Aug 9 (Reuters) -- With his head and eyes rolling, and grimacing in apparent agony, Emil Zatopek won zero marks for artistic impression but a clutch of gold medals during the years following World War Two.
The contortions belied a supremely efficent running style which enabled the Czech to set 18 world records in six years and capture four golds at two Olympic Games.
Zatopek started running while working in a shoe factory in his home town of Zlin during the 1940s. He was immensely impressed by the great Swedish middle-distance runner Arne Andersson who visited Czechoslovakia in 1945.
He took the rigorous training schedules practised by the Nordic runners to new extremes, training in heavy soldiers' boots in pouring rain.
Zatopek was also a disciple of interval training, systematically lengthening the distances and shortening the time between each training run. At his peak he ran 20 kms a day, around half a marathon, reasoning that the more difficult the training the easier the competition.
Dubbed "Emil the Terrible," Zatopek won gold in the 10,000 and silver in the 5,000 at the 1948 London Olympics.
Four years later in Helsinki he won the 5,000-10,000 double then eased to victory in the marathon in his debut over the 42.195 kms race.
That race developed into a remarkable one-man exhibition. Zatopek studied the newspapers and discovered Jim Peters was the favourite.
He introduced himself before the race and kept an eye on the Briton up to the halfway stage. Then he politely asked if the pace was not too fast.
Peters, already close to exhaustion, tried a double bluff, suggesting that the pace was probably too slow.
The ploy backfired. Peters dropped out with cramp and Zatopek eased to the front, chatting with spectators along the route before entering the stadium to a rapturous reception.
Zatopek planned to repeat his marathon triumph in Melbourne four years later but was forced to undergo a hernia operation. Instructed by doctors to take two months off, he started training the day after he was discharged and finished a heroic sixth at the Games.
The Prague Spring of 1968 revealed Zatopek had moral as well as physical courage. He spoke out against the Soviet Union after tanks moved into the Czech capital to crush the democratic movement led by Alexander Dubcek.
Zatopek was expelled from the army and forced to work for six years in a uranium mine before he was eventually rehabilitated. Remarkably up to his death in 2000 he showed no public bitterness.
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