Emil Zatopek: earth's tearing cry and Heaven's beaming smile
The Mount Everest CzechZatopek, Zatopek, Zatopek!
O Mount Everest Czech!
Your body was earth's tearing cry,
Success vast and progress high.
Your running knew no beguile,
Your soul was Heaven's beaming smile.
2Confidence is good. Self-confidence is better. Confidence in God is by far the best. Again, the human instrument must have faith both in his sincere efforts and in the Grace from above. In the case of Zatopek, higher reality and higher divinity descended on him precisely because he had confidence in his own capacities and also an implicit faith in the vision and satisfaction of the higher worlds. On the strength of his unparalleled confidence in himself and confidence in God, he not only conquered the runners' world but also illumined the consciousness of the runners' world.
3Confidence finds confirmation in confidence exactly the way satisfaction finds confirmation in satisfaction. By virtue of his confidence, Zatopek worked extremely hard. Therefore, he was crowned with success-satisfaction.
4Life and sports cannot be separated; they are one. As a matter of fact, life itself is a game. This game can be played extremely well, provided the player develops consciously or unconsciously the capacity to invoke the transcendental energy which is always manifested in action. The present-day sportsmen, according to Zatopek, are neither aware of this nor doing the right thing. He says, "Sportsmen are like children; they don't know anything about life. They only know to train and compete. They meet only other athletes."
5The chemist in Zatopek inspired him to experiment with the human body and test his own strength, thus helping him to launch into his matchless running career. But the chemistry world as well as the language world eventually all surrendered to his running world.
6Zatopek's dedication and will power are Himalayan. Day in and day out, year after year during his training regimen, the courageous champion remained faithful and dedicated to the course he had set for himself. He clearly describes his training philosophy: "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 beside the point. It's simply that I just have to."
7A particular message of Emil Zatopek should be imprinted on the tablet of every runner's heart: "You must be fast enough. You must have endurance. So you run fast for speed, and repeat it many times for endurance."
Another significant message he has offered to us: "There's a great advantage in training under unfavourable conditions." For when victory dawns, everything becomes sweet, illumining and fulfilling. At that time, unfavourable conditions are no longer seen as unfavourable but as necessary steps to bring to the fore the runner's ultimate capacity.
8The Olympian spiritual giant Swami Vivekananda used to say, "Better to wear out than to rust out." The Olympian runner Zatopek also had the same view: to run hard, harder, hardest and allow not the body to indulge in lethargy.
9Emil Zatopek, Emil Zatopek!
Teeming world records in a beaming deck.
O birthless, deathless will power,
In endurance-life, Everest-Tower.
Emil Zatopek, Emil Zatopek!
Breathless interval training-pioneer,
A sure oneness-heart far and near.
10Zatopek is sincerity incarnate. He has always given the topmost priority to truth in every aspect of his life. At times, his sincerity has been so soulfully moving. On the eve of the 1948 Olympics, his sincerity reached the highest height. "It was my first competition in Olympic Games and I was surprised to come to Olympic stadium and to read most important things about the Games: 'Not to win but to take part'. What — not to win? Ah, but I wish to win! "
11Zatopek was a perfect stranger to deception. He was honesty incarnate. But his style of running, which was alarmingly peculiar and awkward, to say the least, fooled runners and spectators alike. One European coach observed: "He runs like a man who has just been stabbed in the heart."
To Grand Marshal of all timeO Grand Marshal of all time!
Your flower-heart has blossomed in every clime.
The child in you is pure and strong.
Around you cosmos-joys throng.
13A life without humour is undoubtedly a life of slow but certain failure. Humour is the spice of life. Humour shakes off tension-fever, unnerves frustration-night and brings to the fore spontaneously encouraging reality and fulfilling beauty. A Chinese restaurant once inspired Zatopek, and his inspiration he offered to us in a strikingly amusing way: "There are three things worth living for: American luxury, Japanese women and Chinese food."
14A sense of humour ought to be cultivated by everybody every day, for a sense of humour is nothing short of a wisdom-tree. This wisdom-tree serves us, feeds us, illumines us and protects us. Zatopek's sense of humour was unique. In response to criticism of his running style, he once declared, "I shall learn to have a better style once they start judging races according to their beauty. So long as it's a question of speed, then my attention will be directed to seeing how fast I can cover the ground." Not self-denial, but self-defense, he felt, is of paramount importance.
15When Zatopek was doomed to disappointment, his wife encouraged him, inspired him and elevated him to his highest height. Then again, when his wife needed encouragement and inspiration, he helped her not only cheerfully, willingly and unreservedly but also successfully.
16If we take life very seriously, we do not always get the best out of life. Sometimes spontaneous joy is the only answer to keep life going. When the two souls, Emil and Dana, became one on their wedding day, they danced until dawn — long after their guests had become too tired to keep up with their marathon exuberance.
Sister DanaSister Dana, Sister Dana, Sister!
Helsinki Olympics gold medal winner
Farther than the farthest javelin you threw.
World's surprise-attention you drew.
Your Emil swam in ecstasy-sea,
Perfect oneness-joy-satisfaction free.
18Zatopek and his wife, Dana, have always been very close. Two good souls, they were born on the same day: September 19, 1922 — he at Koprivnice and she at Tryskat. He defeated his better half by six hours.
19When Zatopek went back to the Olympic Village after winning his third gold medal in the Helsinki Games and later heard that his wife had won the gold medal in the javelin, his oneness was such that he said: "This gold one pleases me more than all the others so far." Such love and encouragement he gave to his wife!
20It is not true that human life is nothing but a series of misfortunes, a chain of bondage and a night of destruction. Sometimes happiness-flood does inundate certain human beings. Such an experience lasts for the entire span of an individual's life and offers continuously a new significance to the pilgrims who have come to enjoy the earthly pilgrimage. Here Zatopek comments on the day in the Helsinki Olympics when he had won his third gold medal — for the marathon — and his wife, Dana, had taken a gold medal with a new Olympic record in the women's javelin: "It was a wonderful day. It was 24 July 1952. I remember it always. Indeed, it was all happiness for us."
21Winning is as beautiful as it is useful to lose.
But one learns more from defeats than laurels.
— Emil Zatopek
22Once, in a very happy mood, Zatopek threw his better half into a running stream. Poor Dana broke her ankle on a rock, and her leg was put in a cast. After that, he carried her on his back while running in the snow. That was Zatopek and that was his wife!
23The immortal runner was also a linguist. He was at home in German, French, English and Czechoslovakian. He felt that if he could speak to others in their own native tongues, then they would get more joy and enthusiasm. In the dressing room, Emil Zatopek would greet his opponents warmly. "Comment ca va? … Wie geht's? … How goes it?" Others sometimes did not greet him because of fear or nervousness. They did not want to lose their power of concentration. Zatopek was also nervous to some extent, but he had strength in his inner life, so he felt even if he had lost the race he would not feel miserable. He worked hard; that was his satisfaction. He had confidence in his ability; that was his satisfaction.
24Only a seeker-runner can shed spiritual, divine light on the Olympics. Says Zatopek: "For me, the 1948 Olympics was a liberation of the spirit. 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 in 1948 and suddenly there were no more frontiers, no more barriers. Just the people meeting together. It was wonderfully warm. Men and women who had lost five years of life were back again."
25Children play for joy; adults play for medals. Medals are the means to promote sports, but the goal is to contribute a healthy, happy and harmonious life to man.
— Emil Zatopek
26"Zatopek, Zatopek!" was not a name when he entered into the Helsinki Olympic stadium and was about to win the first marathon he had ever run. "Zatopek" was not a name but an incantation: joy-invoking, love-spreading and oneness-becoming reality unparalleled.
The 1952 Helsinki Olympics and Zatopek will always remain inseparable and unique. The Olympics gave Zatopek the opportunity unparalleled. Zatopek gave the Olympics the glory unparalleled.
27There is a great advantage in training under unfavourable conditions.
— Emil Zatopek
28Instead of being consumed with pride, he was a radiant example of spontaneous concern and affection. On the eve of his last Olympic competition in 1956, Zatopek came to Calcutta with his wife Dana to run in a five-kilometre race. He was then 35 years old. The Indian champion, Gulzara Singh, lost to the Czechoslovakian badly. And what was his reaction? Singh touched Zatopek's shoes and sprinkled dust from the Czechoslovakian's feet onto his head. Perhaps only an Indian could offer such adoration to a fellow runner. The immortal Zatopek, a five-medal Olympian, also did something to capture the very breath of the Indian runner. He made him a present of his running shoes.
The seeker-runner in Zatopek is aware of the supreme truth that admiration and adoration are not a sign of inferiority but two divine qualities which eventually bring tremendous satisfaction to all walks of life.
29Through the expansion of his heart, Zatopek always wanted to give and get joy. There is a most significant incident involving Ron Clarke. Ron Clarke was such a great runner. He set so many world records, but never got any gold medals. Zatopek's sympathetic heart felt the sadness of Clarke's heart. So in secret he gave Ron Clarke one of his gold medals, putting it in the younger runner's suitcase while he was visiting him. When Clarke got home and opened his suitcase, to his wide surprise he found Zatopek's gold medal.
30Each doctor has an opinion of his own, but a patient can have faith only in one doctor. Otherwise, the patient will dig his own grave. Again, each individual has his own appetite and a special liking for particular foods. But if we pay all attention to food, then we shall get unfortunately unhealthy and frustrating experiences. Zatopek illumines us: "At one time I was so confused by various doctors' good advice that I almost died of hunger and thirst. 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."
31It was my first competition in Olympic Games and I was surprised to come to Olympic stadium and to read most important things about the Games: "Not to win but to take part". What — not to win? Ah, but I wish to win!
— Emil Zatopek
32Incredible, but true. Zatopek's father discouraged the young boy like anything in his running. He even went to the extent of saying, "Sports is an unnecessary time waster. If you've got nothing to do, go to the river and fetch catkins for my bees!"
33Incredible, but true. Zatopek himself had very little interest in running when he was in his teens. Incredible, but true. He was a very slow runner. Incredible, but true. His friends used to mock him because of his slow speed. Those friends, when he became Olympic champion, said: "Emil, you are a genius." Perhaps he was not born with natural ability. But by virtue of his indomitable will, he granted his body a supernatural capacity.
34Great is the victory, but the friendship of all is greater.
— Emil Zatopek
35Incredible, but true. In 1939 he was working in a shoe factory that sponsored a race in the streets. Although the 16-year-old Zatopek was not very enthusiastic about running, he finished second out of hundreds. Incredible, but true. In 1946 the dauntless athlete bicycled 180 miles to Berlin for his first international race — a 5,000-metre run — and won it.
36Incredible, but true. As a soldier drafted into the Czech army, the young Zatopek trained sometimes in heavy boots, with a full back pack. After his star performance in the 1948 London Olympics, Zatopek was promoted to captain.
37You must be fast enough. You must have endurance. So you run fast for speed and repeat it many times for endurance.
— Emil Zatopek
38Incredible, but true. In 1948 he started running sixty 400-metre intervals a day, with only a 200-metre jog in between. In 1955 he trained harder than ever, running as many as ninety 400-metre intervals daily.
39Incredible, but true. During the post-War decade from 1946 to 1956, the immortal runner ran 50,000 miles during his training. Who else is entitled to the supreme honour of being called the "Czechoslovakian train."
Brave he was, courageous he was, soulful he was, spontaneous he was. Therefore, it was possible for him to cover such frightening distances. Scientist he never was, but a new vision dawned on him. Therefore, he was able to be the pioneer runner in interval training.
40If one can stick to the training for many long years, then will power 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.
— Emil Zatopek
41Incredible, but true. On 29 September 1951, the miracle-runner set out to run 20 kilometres in one hour and broke four world records in one breathtaking race. By the end of 1953 he held eight world running records — the only man in history to hold so many records at the same time.
42Incredible, but true. Zatopek was the first to run 10,000 metres in under 29 minutes and 20,000 metres in less than one hour.
43Incredible, but true. In his first marathon attempt, in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games, the fearless runner paced himself with marathon world-record holder Jim Peters, and then relentlessly increased the pace until his competitor was forced to drop out. Zatopek went on to win the gold medal and set a new Olympic record.
44At one time I was so confused by various doctors' good advice that I almost died of hunger and thirst. 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.
— Emil Zatopek
45Incredible, but true. Zatopek is the only Olympian ever to win gold medals in all three long-distance races: the 5,000-metre, the 10,000-metre and the marathon.
46I shall learn to have a better style once they start judging races according to their beauty. So long as it's a question of speed, then my attention will be directed to seeing how fast I can cover the ground.
— Emil Zatopek
47Incredible, but true. The unbelievable Zatopek won every 10,000-metre race he entered between 1948 and 1954 — 38 at a stretch.
48Incredible, but true. Zatopek was the first athlete to be awarded Czechoslovakia's Order of the Republic, its highest honour.
49Incredible, but true. The amazing Czech held the world record for every distance between 5,000 and 30,000 metres at various times in his unprecedented career. He was not only a striking but also a winning running-machine. All over Europe he was winning the distance races. In all, he set eighteen world records.
50At times merciless criticism corrodes the human capacities. But in the case of Zatopek, the critics sadly failed. He was far beyond the snare of ruthless criticism. Form and style are indeed necessary, but speed and stamina are of paramount importance.
51"He looked… as if he might be having a fit."
— Cordner Nelson
"He ran as if tortured by internal demons."
— Kenny Moore
"He ran every step of a race as if there was a scorpion in each shoe."
— William Johnson
"He runs like a man wasting no time getting out of a graveyard at the witches' hour with blood on the moon."
— Allison Danzig
"Witnesses … still wake up screaming in the dark when Emil the Terrible goes writhing through their dreams, clawing at his abdomen in horrible extremities of pain."
— Red Smith
Zatopek had many critics, but he ultimately silenced the proud criticism of them all.
He runs like a man who has just been stabbed in the heart.
— European coach
52In 1956 Zatopek underwent an unfortunate hernia operation, which prevented him from running for three months during the summer. Still, at the age of 34, the immortal Zatopek placed sixth in the Melbourne Olympic Marathon. Although most runners would have considered this an excellent performance, Zatopek candidly acknowledged his failure with a smile: "I realised I was licked at the half way point. I started confident that I could make a good race of it, but I suddenly realised about all that was left was to go out like a champion. That was when I decided it was no use breaking my neck with any more speed and risk collapse … This was my last race."
53When Alain Mimoun of France won the Olympic Marathon in the 1956 Melbourne Games, he waited for Emil Zatopek, who had beaten him in every Olympic race he had ever run before. When Zatopek finally appeared, in sixth place, Mimoun said to him, "Emil, why don't you congratulate me? I am an Olympic champion. It was I who won."
Mimoun describes Zatopek's reaction: "Emil turned and looked at me as if he were waking from a dream. Then he snapped to attention. Emil took off his cap — that white painting cap he wore so much — and he saluted me. Then he embraced me."
Alain Mimoun sheds tears when he speaks of it. "Oh, for me," he said, "that was better than the medal."
Then Mimoun informed Zatopek that he had more good news for his friend. Mimoun had two days earlier become the proud father of a baby boy.
54Zatopek retired at the age of 34, after the 1956 Olympics, but still ran some races in 1957 with excellent times. Even after he retired, he retained his love and enthusiasm for racing.
55A man of principle he was. Nothing could swerve him from his inner duty. Humiliation untold he was ready to tolerate. Whenever his inner moral fibre was severely tested, he always came out easily triumphant, as was the case with his Olympic ordeals.
When the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, Zatopek was a supporter of Alexander Dubcek. His loyalty to Dubcek was incredible. After the invasion, the Russians expelled him from the Czech army, in which he had held the rank of colonel.
From being a colonel, he had to take the job of a garbage collector in Prague. He suffered the excruciating pangs of humiliation, but cheerfully he went through it. Because he was a man of such principle, his friends and admirers became closer to him. Some kind-hearted men even helped him in his new job. He did a few more menial jobs, but indomitable was his spirit. Cheerful was his life. He braved the storms of life smilingly and thus triumphed in the battlefield of real life.
56Emil Zatopek's timing has been bettered by present-day runners, but this in no way eclipses his supreme achievements. Zatopek's achievements were the foundation stones of today's unique achievements. How can there be any edifice if there is no solid foundation? The foundation makes its unique contribution.
When the immortal Czech was invited to be the Grand Marshal of the tenth annual New York City Marathon — the biggest marathon in the world — the New York Road Runners Club explained its choice: "We wanted someone for Grand Marshal who would conform to the highest standards of any athlete — in any sport, in any time. Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia is such a man."
57Zatopek's greatness has surprised mankind. His goodness has illumined mankind. His fullness has elevated mankind.