July 24, 1952: A golden day for the Zátopeks

Zátopeks with discus thrower NIna Dumbadze at the Olympics in Helsinki 1952

The story of Emil and Dana Zátopek never ceases to be fascinating. Both were born on the same day and they both became Olympic champions on the same day as well – July 24, 1952, in Helsinki. He in the 5,000 metres, she in javelin throwing.

Emil Zátopek | Source:  Panini,  public domain

The future couple was born on September 19, 1922. They met in 1948 during a competition in Zlín. It was on the day that Emil and Dana met, that both of them also broke their first career national records. By the time they left for the London Olympics in the summer of 1948 they were in love. Emil would go on to win his first Olympic gold there, adding a silver medal as well.

The real golden moment for the duo came four years later however. On July 24, just minutes apart, both Emil and Dana won in their competitions. Emil also managed to secure gold in the 10,000 metres and in the marathon, as the only Olympic athlete in history.

Dana and Emil Zátopek during the Olympics in Helsinki | Photo: Hede Foto,  Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

By the time they returned to Czechoslovakia, Emil and Dana Zátopek were names known to the whole world. Especially Emil, who had by now won 4 Olympic golds and had established 18 world records, had become a national hero.

In 1968, both athletes spoke in favour of the democratisation process that was going on in Czechoslovakia, signing the 2,000 Words manifesto. Zátopek was punished after the defeat of the reform movement, largely being side-lined. His name disappeared from the newspapers and the once famous athlete became a construction worker. It would take 20 years and a revolution before he could return into the nation’s spotlight.

1952, Emil Zátopek, 5000m, Olympic Games, Helsinki

Despite these challenges, Emil Zátopek never lost his optimism and determination. As a sportsman he was known for his almost painful facial expression when he was running. “I was not granted the gift of being able to run and smile at the same time,” he once said. The famous runner’s tale would also serve as inspiration for director David Ondříček’s 2021 film Zátopek.

Dana and Emil Zátopek were known as a loving and harmonious couple. Emil died in the year 2000 at the age of 78. Dana died twenty years later at the blessed age of 97.

Zátopeks | Photo:  eSbírky,  National Museum in Prague,  CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 DEED