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Czechoslovakian distance running legend and inspiration to all distance runners, Emil Zatopek excelled in events from the 5K to the marathon. Unlike modern suave runners like Michael Johnson, Emil was known to wear a grimace that made you feel his pain and to have an "ungainly" running form. He was born into a bleak industrial, proletarian world in northern Moravia on September 22, 1922. In 1948 in the London Olympics, he surprised the world by winning the 10K (29:59, then an Olympic record) and getting a close second in the 5K. In 1952, he won a triple in the Helsinki Olympics in the 5K, 10K, and marathon. He married Dana Ignevona, a Czech javelin thrower.

His grueling training, emphasizing many (50 or more) short intervals of 200 or 400 meters, often running in boots, became part of his legend. Later in life, due to political shifts of favor in his homeland, Zatopek became thrust into obscurity and menial work. ThePope informed me that he is now dead.

Quotes gleaned from all over the Web and beyond:

  • If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.

  • There are three things worth living for: American luxury, Japanese women and Chinese food.

  • If you come to think of it, you never see deer, dogs and rabbits worrying about their menus and yet they run much faster than humans.

  • I was unable to walk for a whole week after that, so much did the race take out of me. But it was the most pleasant exhaustion I have ever known.
    -- description of the Olympic marathon win in Helsinki

  • If one can stick to the training throughout the many long years, then will power is no longer a problem. It's raining? That doesn't matter. I am tired? That's besides the point. It's simply that I just have to.

  • Maybe wearing boots in training and light shoes in competition was good; when you change-then whoosh!

  • You can't climb up to the second floor without a ladder....When you set your aim too high and don't fulfill it, then your enthusiasm turns to bitterness. Try for a goal that's reasonable, and then gradually raise it.

  • It's at the borders of pain and suffering that the men are separated from the boys.

  • After all those dark days of the war, the bombing, the killing, the starvation, the revival of the Olympics was as if the sun had come out....I went into the Olympic Village and suddenly there were no more frontiers, no more barriers. Just the people meeting together. It was wonderfully warm. Men and women who had just lost five years of life were back again.
    --about the 1948 London Olympics

  • Men, today we die a little.
    --at the start of the Olympic Marathon

  • When asked about his tortured expression during races, Emil Zatopek said, "It is not gymnastics or ice skating you know."

  • Runner's World Daily: How do you compare the modern runner with yourself?

    Emil Zatopek: The athlete of today is not an athlete alone. He's the center of a team--doctors, scientists, coaches, agents and so on. My running was very simple; it was out of myself. Perhaps sometimes I was like a mad dog. It didn't matter about style or what it looked like to others; there were records to break. Two months before the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, the doctors said I must not compete. I had a gland infection in my neck. Well I didn't listen and what happened? Three golds. The sportsman, the real sportsman, knows what is inside him. Haile Gebrselassie impresses me very much. He seems to run from within himself.

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