Brussels to host Zátopek themed charity run marking start of Czech EU presidency

Emil Zátopek

On the occasion of assuming the presidency of the EU Council, the Czech Republic is organising a special charity run in Brussels this Saturday. The race is inspired by the friendship of the two great track rivals of 1950s long-distance running – Czechoslovakia’s Emil Zátopek and France’s Alain Mimoun.

Manneken Pis with the Zátopek-inspired dress in 2013 | Photo: Stefaan De Clerck,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

The famous pissing boy of Brussels, Manneken Pis, will be sporting Zátopek-inspired dress this Friday, July 1, as the Czech Republic assumes its six-month term at the head of the EU Council.

The choice of apparel on the city’s iconic statue is not a mere bureaucratic nod either. As the spokeswoman of the Permanent Czech Representation in Brussels, Eva Hrnčířová, explains, Czechoslovakia’s four-time Olympic champion is still remembered in the Belgian capital.

“He broke the world record for the 10,000m right here at the stadium in Watermael Boitsfort. In 1954, he was the first runner in the world to run 10km in less than 29 minutes, so he is famous here in Belgium.

Zatopek running magazine | Photo: Guillaume Narguet,  Radio Prague International

“Emil Zátopek is still known in Belgium, France and Switzerland. In fact, there is a running magazine here called after him.”

Building further on Zátopek’s famous legacy, Czech diplomats have organised a special run that will take place the next day at the Three Linden Stadium, in the same neighbourhood where the Czechoslovak runner broke the 10,000m record.

Called the “Friendship Run in Pairs”, the race will honour the relationship between Zátopek and his great French competitor Alain Mimoun, says Ms Hrnčířová.

Alain Mimoun | Photo: XVIe Olympic Organising Committee,  Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

“They were rivals on the track, but best friends in real life. They dominated every running competition.

“If it had not been for Zátopek, Mimoun would have won several gold medals.

“Nevertheless, there was no animosity between them. Mimoun ended up twice behind Zátopek at the Olympics, but he admired him.”

The friendship is being highlighted as the Czech Republic takes over the EU presidency from France, the spokeswoman says.

“The ambassador of France will symbolically hand over the baton to his Czech counterpart and they will also set off on the track together.

“So it will be much more than just a race, it really is an official opening of the Czech presidency in Brussels.”

Jarmila Kratochvílová | Photo:,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

Aside from diplomats, those taking part are also set to include Czech athlete Jarmila Kratochvílová, who held the world record in the 400m category during the 1980s, and some of the staff from Belgium’s Zatopek Magazine.

The race is open to both professional and casual runners, with registration possible either via the Zatopek Magazine’s website, or directly on the spot at 2pm, an hour before the start of the main run itself.

The proceeds from the registration fee will be sent to help people in Ukraine via the Czech humanitarian NGO People in Need.

Illustrative photo: Zdeňka Trachtová,  Czech Radio

There will also be a race and activities for children as well as a presentation about the Czech Republic’s regions, the spokeswoman says, adding that Zátopek’s famous saying “When you can’t keep going, go faster”, will be an important encouragement for the Czechs during their presidency.

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