May 1942: All-time gymnastics great Věra Čáslavská is born

Věra Čáslavská

Gymnast Věra Čáslavská was born on May 3, 1942 and went on to become Czechoslovakia’s most successful Olympian ever.

Věra Čáslavská’s achievements in gymnastics were simply phenomenal: seven gold and four silver Olympics medals, four World Championship triumphs and 11 European Champion titles.

In 1968 Čáslavská responded to the crushing of her native country’s Prague Spring movement, signing the Two Thousand Words petition against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia.

Věra Čáslavská at 1968 Mexico Olympics | Photo: e-Sbírky,  National Museum,  CC BY 4.0

She extended her legendary status by a silent protest against the occupation at the Olympics in Mexico City in October 1968, when she turned her head down during a medals ceremony to avert her eyes from a Soviet flag.

Čáslavská was subsequently persecuted for her political position, barred from working as a trainer and forced to become a cleaner.

After the fall of communism she became an important official on the Czechoslovak/Czech Olympic Committee and also the International Olympic Committee. In 1990 she also became advisor to President Václav Havel on sport.

Věra Čáslavská was born in Prague on May 3, 1942. At the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City she married Josef Odložil, a silver medalist in the 1500m, with whom she had a daughter, Radka (1969), and a son, Martin (1974). She died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer on August 30, 2016 in Prague at the age of 74.