Hometown of Olympic gold medallist Emil Zátopek to immortalize him in bronze

Statue of Emil Zátopek in Lausanne, photo: Jan Kaliba, Czech Radio

The northern Moravian town of Kopřivnice this weekend officially launched a public collection to fund a statue of favourite son Emil Zátopek – arguably the greatest distance runner in history – in time for the 100th anniversary of his birth next September.

Emil Zatopek - Olympic highlights 1948-52

Emil Zátopek is the only runner in history to have won the 5,000 metre, 10,000 metre and Marathon races in the same Olympic Games. Remarkably, after winning gold in those first two events in Helsinki in 1952, Zátopek decided at the last minute to run the marathon – his first.

Emil Zátopek, photo: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Nearly two decades ago, a life-size statue of the “Czech locomotive”, as Zátopek came to be known in part due to his unorthodox running style, was installed in in the Gardens of the Olympic Museum, in Lausanne, Switzerland – an honour bestowed upon only three other sports figures before him.

Now, his hometown of Kopřivnice hopes to raise some 1.5 million crowns from the public to fund a similar stature from the very same sculptor, Jaroslav Brož, who has already begun work on it and told Czech Radio of his artistic concept.

“The statue will be on what you could call a pedestal but which evokes a race track. It will be life-size and have a patinate on quite a dark, shiny bronze.”

Statue of Emil Zátopek in Zlín, photo: Radim Hanke, Czech Radio

Six years ago, another life-size statue of Zátopek, by another sculptor, was unveiled at the Youth Stadium in Zlín, home to the Baťa show factory. It was there, as a 16-year-old, that the future Olympic champion first began running – reluctantly – after randomly being picked to run a race by the factory’s sports coach.

While Kopřivnice is far from the first to immortalize the gold medallist in bronze, so to speak, the northern Moravian town does plan to make up for lost time, Lenka Heráková of the town hall told Czech Radio.

Emil Zátopek, photo: Czech TV

“Here is where the statue of the famous Kopřivnice native, Emil Zátopek, will stand – at the crossroads of this walkway across from the town hall. So, really in the centre of town.”

The Zátopek statue is expected to take pride of place on an elevated “race track” about 4 metres long and 80 centimetres wide, off of Štefánikova Street. Plans are also afoot to stage a grand exhibition in the museum housed within the town’s historic Šustal Villa that would honour the runner Zátopek and his wife Dana Zátopková, herself an Olympic champion javelin thrower.

Zátopek broke 18 world records during his 17-year career and was also the first to run a 10,000-metre race in less than 29 minutes. While certainly the most famous athlete to come out of Kopřivnice (population 22,000), he is not its only champion. The local hall of fame also includes gymnast Zdeňka Veřmiřovská, tennis player Hana Šromová and ice hockey player Tomáš Fleischmann.