The Great Zatopek

In the 1948 London Olympics, Czech runner Emil Zatopek won a Gold Medal in the 10000 meters and  Bronze in the 5000.  Four years later in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Zatopek completed the most amazing long distance running accomplishment in Olympic history; winning the 5000 meters, 10000 meters, and marathon, all in Olympic record times.
Surprisingly, the 1952 Olympic Marathon was Zatopek’s first marathon and he decided to run just a few days before. His race strategy was classic Zatopek; at the starting line he went up to Jim Peters, the British champion and race favorite, and asked if Peters minded if he ran with him. Peters went out punishingly fast in the hope of tiring Zatopek.  At the 10 mile mark, Zatopek asked Peters if the pace was good for him. Peters, again trying to fool Zatopek, said, “it’s too slow”.  Zatopek sped up and went on to win the marathon while Peters dropped out. 
Besides his Olympic feats, Zatopek set 18 world records at multiple distances during the 1946 to 1956 time period.  His running form was less than ideal, more brute force than efficient, and earned him the nickname “the Czech Locomotive.”
In the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Austrailian Ron Clarke was heavily favored in the 10000 meters and it was a dissapointment to only earn a bronze medal. In 1965, Clarke was the best runner in the world, setting world records 12 times at various distances.  Clarke went to Czechoslavakia to run in a track meet in 1966 and met Zatopek, who was now retired from running and a high level official in the Communist Party.  When Clarke departed, Zatopek gave him a small box and told Clarke not to open it until he was on the plane.
Clarke, to his astonishment, found Zatopek’s 10000 meter Olympic gold medal from Helsinki, and a note saying, “Look after this, you deserve it.”
In the 1968 Olympic 10000 meter finals in Mexico City, Clarke collapsed and nearly died from altitude sickness and sustained permanent heart damage from his effort.  Clarke went into politics and just this year, at age 75, finished 8 years serving as Mayor of the Gold Coast region.  Life wasn’t so good for Zatopek however. After the 1968 “Praque Spring”, involving government reform and Russian invasion, Zatopek was stripped of his Communist party rank and forced to work in a series of hard labor jobs for almost 20 years.  
One of our great local runners, Hansi Rigney, of Carmel, is the daughter of Giulio DePetra, who made the Italian Olympic team in race walking in 1936.  DePetra was unable to compete in the 1936 games in Berlin because he was called up in the Army. He moved to Carmel Highlands in 1948.
Hansi doesn’t know how her father became a friend of Zatopek, but in 1991 when Zatopek was finally allowed to leave Czechoslavakia, he came to Carmel and stayed with her father for a few days.  DePetra invited a few local runners and race walkers, including Nellie Wright (who ran in the 1984 Olympic Marathon for Bolivia), and Kim Wilkinson.
 They were told there would be a special guest for dinner and when they met the Great Zatopek they were incredibly honored and surprised. Both commented with virtually the same words, “at almost age 70, he was friendly, energetic, and fiery…I got goosebumps.” 
Emil Zatopek said, “Great is the victory, but the friendship of all is greater.” He died in 2000.

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