Emil Zatopek was an accomplished, world record breaking long distance runner. Read this biography to learn more about his childhood, profile, life and timeline.

Quick Facts

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Nick Name
Czech Locomotive
Famous as
Long Distance Runner
Born on
19 September 1922 AD
Died At Age
Sun Sign
Virgo    Virgo Men
Born in
Died on
22 November 2000 AD
place of death
Dana Zátopková
2000 - Pierre de Coubertin medal
1952 - Olympic Champions Gold for Men's 5000 m
1952 - Olympic Champions Gold for Men's 10
More Awards
000 meters
1948 - Olympic Champions Gold for 10
000 m
1948 - Olympic Champions Silver for 5
000 m
1950 - European Champions in Men's 5000 m
1950 - European Champions in Men's 10
000 m
1954 - European Champions in Men's 10
000 m
1950 - European Athletics Championships Gold for 5
000 m
1950 - European Athletics Championships Gold for 10
000 m
1954 - European Athletics Championships Gold for 10
000 m
1954 - European Athletics Championships Bronze for 5
000 m
- IAAF Hall of Fame

Emil Zatopek
Image Credit

One of the greatest long-distance runners of the 20th century, Emil Zatopek shot to great fame with his three gold medal victories at the Summer Olympics in Helsinki in 1952. Proclaimed as the ‘Greatest Runner of All Time’ by the Runner's World Magazine, Zatopek is known for his hard working nature and tough and challenging training methods. He is known to have pushed himself through grueling and strenuous training routines in order to get the best out of himself. This legendary runner was nicknamed ‘Czech Locomotive’ and ‘Bouncing Czech’ for his extraordinary abilities to perform consistently on the track. He set a total of eighteen world records in various long distance running competitions, including 500 meter and 30000 meter races. He has won a total of four Olympic gold medals and a silver medal. He was the first athlete to run the 10 km race in a time span of under 29 minutes and ran 20 km race within an hour. He is also known for his unique and distinctive running style, facial expressions on the track and his posture. To learn more interesting facts about his childhood, personal life and professional achievements, scroll down and continue to read this biography.

Childhood & Early Life
  • Emil Zatopek was born in Koprivnice, Czechoslovakia in a modest family.
  • He started working at Bata, a shoe factory, in 1937. The factory sports coach persuaded him to take part in a race, in which he came second.
  • In 1944, he participated in the 2000, 3000 and 5000 meter races and he broke the Czechoslovak records in each of them.
  • He later joined the Czechoslovak Army at the end of the World War II and in 1947 he graduated from the Military Academy in Hranice.
  • In 1946, he was chosen to run for the Czechoslovak national team in the European Championships. He completed the 5000m race in the fifth position and thus broke his own Czechoslovak record.
  • In 1948, he first participated in the 10 km track race that was held in Budapest. Here, he was victorious and ended up setting a national record.
  • Later in 1948, he made his debut in an international competition, the 1948 Summer Olympics, which was held in London. He was the winner of the 10000 metre race and stood in the second position in the 50000 metre race.
  • In 1949, he broke the ‘Men's 10,000 metres world record’, twice at Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, on June 11 and October 22. He performed well during the next four seasons and improved his record.
  • In 1950, he was the winner of the 5000 metre race and the 10000 metre race at the European Championships. In August, he set ‘Men's 10,000 metres world record’ that was held in Turku, Finland.
  • In 1951, he participated in the ‘one hour run’, an international track event recognised by the International Association of Athletics Federations. He broke the record at the track races held in Prague and Stará Boleslav.
  • In the 1952 Summer Olympics that was held in Helsinki, he was victorious in the 5000 metre run and the 10000 metre run that earned him 2 gold medals. He won his third gold medal at the event, after he completed the marathon.
  • On November 1, 1953, he broke the ‘Men's 10,000 metres world record’ in Stara Boleslav, Czechoslovakia.
  • In 1954, he won the 10000 metre race and became the first athlete to break the 29 minute barrier, thus winning the gold medal at the European Athletics Championships. He also won a bronze medal in the 5000 metre race.
  • In 1956, after he recovered from a groin injury, he participated in the Melbourne Olympics, where he finished the marathon in the sixth position. The following year he retired from running.
  • After he retired from running, he remained in the Army and in the year 1964, he rose to the position of a Colonel. He later worked in the Ministry of Defence.
Awards & Achievements
  • In 1998, he was honoured with the title of ‘White Lion’, one of Czech’s highest awards. The title was conferred to him by the then Czech President Vaclav Havel.
  • In 2000, he was posthumously awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal It’s a special decoration conferred by the International Olympic Committee.
  • In 2012, he was named one among twelve athletes who would be inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • After he returned from the London Olympics in 1948, he married Dana Zatopkova, who was a javelin thrower.
  • He died at the age of 78, in Prague, after he had been ill for a long time with pneumonia. His funeral was held at the Prague National Theatre.
  • This record breaking long distance runner is known for his brutal training methods and it is believed that he repeatedly trained with his wife on his back.
  • This accomplished, world record breaking long distance runner had a jovial and friendly personality. He once playfully tried to take credit, at a press conference for his wife’s victory at the Olympics.

See the events in life of Emil Zatopek in Chronological Order

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