Věra Čáslavská

Today in Mailbox we disclose the identity of June’s mystery Czech and announce the names of the four winners who will receive prizes from Radio Prague. Listeners quoted: Prasanta Kumar Padmapati, Panha Pen, Stephen Wara, Robin Wisdom, Elder S J Agboola, Deepa Chakraborty, Jerry Fridrich, Aloisie Krasny, Bob Boundy, Colin Law, and David Eldridge.

Věra Čáslavská | Photo: Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0 NL
Hello and welcome to Mailbox. Today we reveal the identity of June’s mystery Czech - a legendary gymnast, quote from your interesting answers and finally announce the names of the lucky four who will be sent small gifts courtesy of Radio Prague. The first one to answer was – as often - Prasanta Kumar Padmapati from India:

Věra Čáslavská is the most decorated Czech gymnast in history. It is one of Časlavská's many remarkable successes that she won more individual Olympic gold medals than any other female gymnast in history.”

Panha Pen from Cambodia writes:

“There is no other person beside Věra Čáslavská who was president of the Czechoslovak and later Czech Olympic Committee. One of the most remembered things is her brave protest by quietly looking down and away while the Soviet national anthem was played during the medal ceremonies for the balance beam and floor exercise event finals at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. As a result, she was forced into retirement and for many years was denied the right to travel, work and attend sporting events.”

Stephen Wara from France had this to say:

I love and cherish this lady, not only for her world of sports fame, but as well her charm (‘exemplary dignity’), obviously noticed and recognized during a 1989 UNESCO award ceremony of a Pierre de Coubertin International Fair Play Trophy.”

Robin Wisdom writes from England:

“A brilliant gymnast, only one of two women to retain the all round gymnastic gold medal at two successive Olympic games.”

Elder S J Agboola from Nigeria adds:

“She was not only visible to the Czechs but to the whole human race. Her sporting exploits went beyond the Czech borders because she set an unparalleled record of acquiring more individual Olympic gold medals than anyone in history.”

Deepa Chakraborty from India writes about Věra Čáslavská’s later years:

“She became President Havel's adviser and Honorary President of the Czech-Japan Association. Later, after leaving the President's Office, she was elected President of the Czech Olympic Committee. Moreover, she was inducted into both the Women's International Hall of Fame, and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1998.”

Jerry Fridrich from Canada had this to say:

“You are making your Competition Question easier and easier. Probably the whole world knows that the person you are referring to is one of the most famous athletes the Czech lands ever produced, male or female... What you probably don't know is that Věra Čáslavská, after winning 4 gold medals at the Summer Olympics at Mexico City, gave all 4 medals away to the leading political personalities in Czechoslovakia as a demonstration of her support for the pro-democracy movement following the Soviet-led invasion of her country earlier in August.”

Aloisie Krasny from Australia sent us a personal comment:

“This woman was my mentor, I was a gymnast during my younger years and I idolised this person, her name is of course Věra Čáslavská. I thought that Věra was the most fantastic gymnast as she was the one who began modern women's gymnastics as it is today, she did such creative moves and progressed the sport to such a high level. In Mexico she performed to the Mexican Hat Dance and brought the house down. She is a true Czech national sports hero.”

Věra Čáslavská | Photo: Ron Kroon / Anefo,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0 NL
Bob Boundy writes from New Zealand:

“She won 35 medals in total, including 22 gold medals. After the closing of the 1968 Olympics she married Josef Odložil, the 1964 Olympic silver medalist.”

Charles Konecny from Ohio sent us this answer:

“After viewing some of the video of her gymnastic routines on the internet, it is easy to see how she won all those Olympic golds and is considered one of the most well rounded athletes ever. And, as it turns out, another Olympic wedding, when she married Olympic runner Josef Odložil. She should probably get another gold medal for becoming a heroine to the Czechoslovak people of that time by publicly defying the Communist Party and the Soviet Union and their iron fist rule.”

However, the Olympic marriage eventually ended in divorce and as Colin Law from New Zealand writes, a tragic event caused Věra to withdraw from public life:

”After her ex-husband Josef Odložil died from injuries suffered in a fight with their son Martin in 1993, Čáslavská suffered from depression and shut herself away in a house in Prague, after which she was rarely seen in public. She is reported to have said ‘The reason (for my reclusion) was due to a campaign waged by the media after the tragedy that touched my family.’"

David Eldridge from England adds a few facts about the family tragedy:

“It would be callous to make any connections between her personal life and her sporting career, but events turned particularly harsh for her after 1987 and has had a profound affect on her life today. Shortly after the Mexico Olympics she married Czechoslovak 1500m runner Josef Odložil in a ceremony at Mexico City. In 1987 her marriage to Josef ended in divorce and six years later, in 1993, her son, Martin Odložil, was convicted of stabbing Josef to death in an argument at a disco event, a conviction that Václav Havel subsequently overruled in an amnesty. This event has caused Věra Čáslavská to withdraw from the limelight, remaining at home with her children and family and not taking part in any public life.”

Thank you very much for your interesting and well-researched answers. This time the four winners who will receive small prizes from us are: Poupak Khodabandeh from Canada, Jason Nugent also from Canada, Aloisie Krasny from Australia and Elder S J Agboola from Nigeria. Congratulations and your parcels will be posted first thing on Monday morning.

And as usual, there is a fresh question for this month and we stay with outstanding Czech sportspeople.

This Czech footballer was born in Vienna in 1913. During his career he scored more goals than any other Czech football player and is often cited as the best footballer ever.

Please, send us the name of this legendary forward – and a few facts about him if you like – to the usual address [email protected] or Radio Prague, 12099 Prague. Thanks for listening today and until next week, good-bye.