Shooting begins on new film about legendary Czech runner Emil Zátopek

Martha Issová as Dana Zátopková and Václav Neužil as Emil Zátopek, photo: Martin Hrnčíř / Czech Radio

The legendary runner Emil Zátopek and his wife Dana, a javelin thrower, made history at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, when they won altogether four gold medals for Czechoslovakia. The story of one of the world’s most famous sporting couples is the focus of a new film by David Ondříček, which has just started shooting.

Martha Issová as Dana Zátopková and Václav Neužil as Emil Zátopek,  photo: Martin Hrnčíř / Czech Radio

After winning one of this year’s Czech Lion Awards with his film Dukla about a 1961 mining disaster in Czechoslovakia, director David Ondříček is busy working on a new project, this time to make a film about the legendary Czechoslovak sporting couple, Dana and Emil Zátopeks.

The shooting of the film got underway this weekend at a stadium in the village of Březnice south-west of Prague with a scene depicting Dana and Emil’s first meeting. In reality the couple met in Kutná Hora in 1948 at a competition in which Dana set a national javelin record with a throw of 40 metres.

Václav Neužil as Emil Zátopek and Martha Issová as Dana Zátopková | Photo: Martin Hrnčíř,  Czech Radio
Director David Ondříček explains his choice of location:

“There are not many stadiums in the Czech Republic today that look as they did in the 1940s. The one in Březnice is perfect. The place is really photogenic and we didn’t have to make that many changes.”

Emil Zátopek is the only athlete to have won three gold medals in long-distance events at a single Olympic Games. He won the 5,000 and 10,000 metres plus the marathon, all in the space of eight days, setting a new Olympic record in each discipline.

Despite his international fame, Zátopek was expelled from the army and the Communist Party for supporting the 1968 Prague Spring reform movement. He had to work as a labourer and it was not until the 1980s that he was rehabilitated. When he died in 2000, his funeral was attended by thousands of people.

David Ondříček again:

“I have always been fascinated by Emil Zátopek, not only by his career, but by his nature, which is not really typically Czech. I have always admired his optimism and his approach to life.”

The director had to rework the screenplay several times before receiving support from the State Fund of Cinematography:

“I would say the final version of the film is less about sport and more about politics. The main difference is that the story is not linear. It is not narrated from his birth to his successes. It has a more sophisticated framework.”

Václav Neužil,  David Ondříček | Photo: Martin Hrnčíř,  Czech Radio
Featuring in the role of Emil Zátopek will be Václav Neužil, while the role of his wife Dana was entrusted to Martha Issová. As Martha Issová explains, both of the actors have been training for months to take on the role of the legendary athletes.

“I started training with Rudolf Černý, who coaches javelin thrower Barbora Špotáková. I also get some advice from her, since we often run into each other at the Dukla stadium.”

If everything goes according to plan, the film about the Zátopek couple should be completed before the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.