Czechs mourn sporting legend Emil Zatopek, dead at 78

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Czechs are mourning the death of their most celebrated athlete. On Wednesday morning, an official at Prague's Central Military Hospital announced that Emil Zatopek, the only athlete to have won three gold medals in long-distance events at a single Olympic Games, had died. Rob Cameron has this report:

Emil Zapotek, whose finest hour came at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, had been ill for some time. He was hospitalised on October 30 following a stroke and had been in a critical condition ever since. But his death has still come as a shock to those who knew him and those whom he inspired to achieve sporting greatness. Karel Pilny is the Chairman of the Czech Athletics Association: Zatopek's achievements in Helsinki were one of the greatest sporting achievements of all time. The long-distance runner won the 5,000 and 10,000 metres plus the marathon in the space of eight days, each in Olympic record time. His marathon victory was particularly noteworthy. On his debut, Zatopek demoralised his rivals by casually inquiring if the pace was fast enough before going on to win by 700 metres. Four years earlier, he had won a 10,000 metres gold medal and a silver in the 5,000 metres at the London Olympics.

Zatopek was expelled from the army and the Communist Party for supporting the 1968 Prague Spring reform movement. Eventually, however, he was re-hired by the Ministry of Sport and stayed there until his retirement in 1982. As Karel Pilny told Radio Prague, however, Emil Zatopek served as an unofficial ambassador for athletics around the world: