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BBC athletics correspondent John Rawling
"A Czech national hero."
 real 14k

Zatopek is remembered by
1952 Steeplechase athlete John Disley, commentator Rex Alston, 1952 football referee Arthur and BOA's Sandy Duncan.
 real 14k

Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 11:12 GMT
Czech legend Zatopek dies
Zatopek leads the field in Helsinki in 1952
Zatopek leads the field in Helsinki in 1952
Legendary Czech athlete Emil Zatopek has died after suffering with a mystery virus complicated by pneumonia and a weakened heart rate.

The four-times Olympic champion died in a Prague military hospital, aged 78.

Zatopek was hospitalised after a stroke on 30 October and had been in a critical condition since.

Nicknamed "the locomotive" in his prime, Zatopek won four Olympic gold medals between 1948 and 1952.

I wanted to win every time I was on the track
  Emil Zatopek

Lamine Diack, president of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, led the tributes to Zatopek.

"Emil Zatopek was one of my youthful heroes and still today his story stands as an example for all those who start a career in sport," he explained.

At Helsinki in 1952 he became the only athlete in Olympic history to win three gold medals in long-distance events at a single Olympiad.

He took gold in the 5,000m, 10,000m and the marathon.

Zatopek's victory in the 26-mile event was particularly memorable.

He asked rivals whether the pace was fast enough before racing past the finishing line to finish 700m ahead of the stunned chasing pack.

  Zatopek statistics
18 world records over 15 years
First 10,000m race run under 29 minutes.
1948 Olympics: Gold in the 10,000m and silver in the 5,000m
1952: Three golds, including marathon success
"I wanted to win every time I was on the track," Zatopek told his biographers.

"At Helsinki, I was tired after the 10,000m race, but I still shattered all my rivals."

The Czech star was never one to follow populist trends or orthodox training methods.

His own unique style made a significant impact on modern day athletics.

Instead of practising long distances, he preferred numerous 400m circuit runs at full speed to perfect an explosive finish alongside incredible stamina.

Zatopek in 1996 at the World Marathon Cup in Athens
Shunned then honoured: Zatopek in 1996

Off the track, Zatopek fell foul of the former Czechoslavokian regime after his open support for the democratic movement, known as the "Prague Spring" in 1968.

He was expelled from senior positions in the army and the Czech Communist Party before being sent to work in a uranium mine for six years.

His own country eventually acknowledged his contribution to Czechoslovakian sport when he was employed by the Ministry of Sport in 1982.

"Emil Zatopek knew the greatest triumphs and the greatest suffering and that is what will keep him as an eternal symbol of athletics," added Diack.

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See also:

22 Nov 00 |  Athletics
Zatopek: An Olympic legend
22 Nov 00 |  Athletics
Tribute to an Olympic hero
22 Nov 00 |  Athletics
Zatopek: Ahead of his time
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