Legendary Czech javelin thrower Dana Zátopková dies aged 97

Czech athletics legend Dana Zátopková, the 1952 Helsinki Olympics javelin throw gold medalist and former world record holder, has passed away


Written by ČTK Published on 13.03.2020 09:23:41 (updated on 13.03.2020) Reading time: 3 minutes

Prague, March 13 (CTK) – Czech athletics legend Dana Zátopková, the 1952 Helsinki Olympics javelin throw winner and former world record holder, died early in the morning at the age of 97, the Czech Olympic Committee (COV) has announced.

Zátopková, the widow of famous runner Emil Zatopek (1922-2000), passed away in Prague’s Central Military Hospital (UVN).

Apart from the Helsinki gold, Zátopková won silver at the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960. Repeatedly winning the Czech champion title, she also became the European champion twice (1954 and 1958). In 1958, she scored the world record with a 55.73-metre throw.

“I visited her last Saturday…She was mentally fit until the last moment, but her body failed her,” Czech Olympic athletes’ club chairman Oldrich Svojanovsky wrote in a press release.

Even in her nineties, Zátopková remained active in the Olympic movement. She closely watched the performance of her Czech javelin throw followers and met some of them regularly, including the world record holder Barbora Spotakova.

“Dana was not only an outstanding athlete but also a wonderful woman. She was an example for many generations of Olympic athletes. All of us feel grief at her departure,” COV chairman Jiri Kejval wrote.

After ending her sports career in 1962, Zátopková worked as an athletic coach. In 1960-1972, she was a member of the women’s commission of the International Athletics Federation. In 1998, she was awarded the Olympic Order and in 2003 the Czech president bestowed a Medal for Merit on her.

Zatopkova survived her husband Emil by almost 20 years. They both were born on September 19, 1922, and become Olympic winners in Helsinki on the same day.

“They were the biggest athletic celebrities of our country and they enormously promoted our republic and military sport. Fans all over the world knew the Zatopek couple,” said Jaroslav Priscak, head of the Dukla Praha military sports club. Both Zatopek and Zátopková had been members of the Dukla club or its predecessor UDA.

Jan Zelezny, the world record holder in men’s javelin throw, said he admired Zátopková, whom he had known already when he had been a child, not only as an athlete but mainly as a human being. “We had personal and family ties because she was a good friend of my dad,” he said.

“She is such an extraordinary personality that it cannot be replaced with anything. An empty space will remain in my life because I loved her very much,” the 53-year-old Zelezny, who trains Czech javelin throwers, said.

Czech athlete Barbora Spotakova, world record holder in women’s javelin throw and two-times Olympic winner, also liked Zatopkova very much. “I am awfully sorry. Dana was a wonderful woman,” Spotakova said.

Czech Athletic Association head Libor Varhanik said Zátopková’s death is a big loss for Czech athletics. “Not only a Czech sport legend left, but also a woman who tried to make other happy and who actively motivated whole generations of athletes in their effort to achieve sport excellence,” Varhanik said.

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said Zátopková was a fighter. “She is inspiring for all of us and especially nowadays,” Babis said.

Finance Minister Alena Schillerova said Zátopková was not only a famous Czechoslovak athlete but also a moral authority.

Dukla Praha representatives said Zátopková had been preparing for her demise. “Dana talked to us about it for a long time, she said she was getting ready to go,” they said on social networking websites.

The date of the funeral and its organisation are being discussed. The situation is complicated due to the present limits related to the coronavirus pandemic.

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