He drove his body to the limit, whether in a race or in a training session. A lieutenant in the Czech army, Emil Zatopek would spend an hour running on the spot even when on sentry duty. In the midst of winter, he would put on heavy army boots and run through the snow-covered forests for miles every day.
Zatopek built up a capacity for sustained speed that few runners could match. In the 1948 London Olympics, he won the 10,000 m gold, and silver in the 5000 m.
But Zatopek's moment of glory came at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. He ran his opponents into the ground in the 10,000 m. In the 5000 m, with 180 m to go on the final stretch, there were four men neck-to-neck on the track. Then, head rolling, arms thrashing and chest heaving with the effort, the fourth man, Zatopek, burst into the lead and breasted the tape. It was the greatest, most exciting win of his career.
Only three days later, Zatopek entered the marathon, a race he'd never run before. Midway through, he is believed to have asked the favourite, Jim Peters, "Don't you think we ought to be going faster?" Then he sped away, entering the stadium 2 1/2 minutes before the others. The standing ovation he received was the greatest accorded to any athlete before or since. Later, he said that it was the easiest race of his career!
In a unique coincidence, his wife Dana, who shared the same birthday with him (September 19, 1922) won the gold in the javelin throw.