NUMBER 2: Emil Zátopek


As good as Paavo Nurmi’s 1924 Olypmic showing was, Zátopek’s performance in Helsinki in 1952 may have been better.

On July 20, Emil ran the 10,000m final and took gold in 29:17 – an Olympic record at the time. He came back two days later and ran a 5,000m heat in 14:26. Then, on July 24, he won the 5000m in 14:06.6 – an Olympic record. Finally, just three days later, on July 27, Emil ran the Olympic marathon. He had never run a marathon before; however, he went on to set an Olympic record and entered the stadium in Helsinki to chants of Za-To-Pek, Za-To-Pek (see video below). Three Olympic races. Three Olympic records.

Emil’s personality was said to be as great as his running. When asked about his pained expression and awkward form when he runs, he responded, “It isn’t gymnastics or figure skating, you know.”

Other great quotes attributed to Emil Zátopek include:

“An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head.”

“If one can stick to the training throughout the many long years, then willpower is no longer a problem. It’s raining? That doesn’t matter. I am tired? That’s beside the point. It’s simply that I just have to.”

“Great is the victory, but the friendship of all is greater.”

“When I was young, I was too slow. I thought I must learn to run fast by practicing to run fast, so I ran 100m fast 20 times. Then I came back, slow, slow, slow.”

“Why should I practice running slow? I already know how to run slow. I want to learn to run fast.”

“What has passed is already finished with. What I find more interesting is what is still to come.”

“If you want to win something, run 100m. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”

Over the course of his career, Zátopek broke 18 world records. He was the first person to run 10,000m in less than 29 minutes.

Emil passed away in 2000 and his NY Times obituary can be read here:

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