(K. Brent Tomer),
Today We Die a Little! The Inimitable Emil Zatopek, the Greatest Olympic Runner of All Time. By Richard Askwith. Nation; 457 pages; $26.99. Yellow Jersey; £16.99.
FEW athletes are good enough to win an Olympic gold medal. Few people are brave enough to stand up to a tyrannical regime. Emil Zatopek did both. The “Czech Locomotive” was the greatest long-distance runner of his era, and arguably of all time. He won four golds and a silver at the 1948 and 1952 games in London and Helsinki, including the treble of the 5,000 metres, 10,000 metres and marathon at the latter—an achievement that has never been matched. The Helsinki marathon was his first ever race at that distance; he broke the Olympic record by six minutes.
But equally famous were Zatopek’s generosity and courage. In sport, that meant sharing training tips with whoever asked, pushing himself harder than anybody had before, and giving away one of his medals to an athlete he thought more deserving. Beyond running, he was known for welcoming travellers into his modest home in Prague, and publicly criticising the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 at great personal risk.
This was not, as Richard Askwith reveals in a new biography, “Today We Die a Little!”, the first time that he had resisted. Remarkably, Zatopek threatened to withdraw from the…Continue reading