Talkback: Emil Zatopek: The Greatest Champion?

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17/05/2012 at 04:00

Sorry, is that one hundred times around a 400m track at less than 72 seconds per lap? Within four hours? In training? Is this a joke or a mistake? Flippin' 'eck!

 Is there anyone in Britain that could do that as a one-off today? A bottle of pop says the isn't!

17/05/2012 at 09:51

Those interested in another story which he was a part of should check out the book "The Ghost Runner: The Tradgedy of the Man they couldnt stop" by Bill Jones.....


Dr Robert - I think they mean 72 seconds per 400m lap, followed by a 200m jog, one hundred times

17/05/2012 at 21:05

Zatopek, Zatopek, Zatopek is an reall good read.  Great runner and a great man by all accounts.

Blisters    pirate
18/05/2012 at 00:59

Was it Steve Jones who was leading the Olympic Marathon and Zatopec was in the lead group, having a chat? (!) He said that this was his first marathon race and were they going fast enough. I think it was Jones who said, that if he felt he could go faster, then he should. Zatopek said he was bored, and upped the pace to win it.

(Names and events may be incorrect, but the story's a good one)

18/05/2012 at 18:44

100 x  400 metre intervals is insane.

Putting aside the extraordinary level of fitness needed, the mental strength required to complete such a session (especially as he must have done it on his own) is "off the scale". Can you imagine completing say 20 of those intervals, feeling the pain and then realising you've got another 80 to go !

Got to be the "toughest" runner of all time and always will be one of the all-time greats.

I agree with Birkmyre. A really great article and these Olympic related stories have been far and away the best thing in the magazine in recent months. I thought the ones on Kelly Holmes and John Carlos/Tommie Smith were also particularly good.

19/05/2012 at 07:01

Just read that Zatopeks standard training session was 20 x 200m; 40 x 400m; 20 x 200m. This was pretty much all the type of training he did. All like this, all on the track. Everyday. 

So, now that we have defined the meaning of boredom....

20/05/2012 at 12:40

That's interesting Dreamtwister/RicF, I'd heard the "100 x 400m intervals" story before and it's one of those stories that's so incredible  I really hoped it was true !

Even if the reality was a little less extreme, that is still an incredible training regime (It'd be a brave coach who suggested something similar today...). It certainly worked for him, but he must have been incredibly injury resilient.

Hi Birkmyre - always good to read your posts. 

20/05/2012 at 15:20

I believe he also did a lot of training in heavy army boots, and chopped down trees to build up his strength.

20/05/2012 at 17:14

And did half squats with his wife on his shoulders. I assume she wasn't 18 stone but then again I doubt it would have made much difference.

20/05/2012 at 21:41

His wife was the Olympic javelin champion - so she must have been fairly "well built" !

23/05/2012 at 18:36

Interesting question - Zatopek or Gebrsellasie ?

On balance, I'd go for Gebrsellaise too, mainly due to the sheer number of years he's kept on producing world class performances.

24/05/2012 at 20:00

Just going on those I've seen, my top 3 would be:

1. Gebrsellasie

2. Bikele

3. Viren

However, I think what Zatopek did was so extraordinary for the time that, although his PB's don't look that special today, I'd still put him at no.2 on my list.

I'd still pick Haile as my number 1 though. PB's ranging from 3'31" at 1500 m (indoors) to 2' 03' 59" at the Marathon, plus 19 years between his first World Championship 10,000m and last Sunday's 27'39" 10k, "plus plus" all the Olympic medals, WC medals and world records.

But we'll all have different opinions and I don't profess to be an expert !




26/05/2012 at 00:38

Not a bad call Birkmyre and I'd definitely agree with you on numbers 1 and 2.

I'd just put Bekele above Viren, mainly because of his 5K and 10K world records, which really are almost unbelievable, and his final lap in winning 10,000m gold at the 2008 Olympics.

The other contender based on a "one off" performance is Daniel Komen. I still watch his 3,000 m world record on Youtube in awe. Whether it was "artificially aided" or not, for pure sustained speed it is quite extraordinary.

26/05/2012 at 17:46

Birkmyre/Dream - we're all pretty much agreed that Geb, Bekele and Viren would be part of any top 4 (and I take your point that Bekele hasn't finished his career yet , by any means).

I still think Zatopek should be in the mix, even though his times look ordinary today. One test of greatness is dominance over your contemporaries and by that measure Zatopek deserves serious consideration. I'm sure that if he was around today (with modern training, rest etc) he'd be much faster than his 1950's times and probably dominant in Europe, although I don't think he'd be any match for either Geb or Bekele at their best. I guess I put him 2nd mainly because of how far ahead of his rivals he was.

27/05/2012 at 17:01

Emil Zatopek and Ron Clarke are my all time favorite runners. My affection for them is nothing short of hero worship.

 The Zatopek - Clarke Olympic medal story recounted in the article is legendary and always brings a tear to my eye. There have been better and faster runners since them, but I can't think of anyone who better embodies the human spirit than Zatopek.

I was lucky to get to see Ron Clarke run at the White City in 1968 and even luckier to meet Zatopek and get his autograph in Prague, also in 1968, shortly before the Russians arrived and changed everything.




27/05/2012 at 21:42

Amazing stories there Tom. Just from your perspective, if we could arrange a "fantasy race" (say 10,000m) between Zatopek, Ron Clarke, Lasse Viren, Haile, Bekele and Paul Tergat - all at their peak and taking into account the eras they were racing in - what do you think the "1-2-3" would most likely be ?

28/05/2012 at 17:53

I absolutely think EZ is one of the all-time greats.  As a teenager, I used to read about and idolise his training methods, even if I didn't have the resources or ability to replicate them!

 But for a year or two, I was Emil Zatopek.

28/05/2012 at 17:55
And yes, Dr Robert, totally agree.  What a mind-warpingly astounding interval session was that!  Wish I could do it for 4 k, let alone marathon distance.
23/06/2012 at 15:58
"In 1968 the Australian athlete Ron Clarke came to visit. One of the world's fastest distance runners for a decade, Clarke had suffered from a string of bad luck at major championships, and in that year's Olympics in Mexico City had collapsed and very nearly died from altitude sickness. For all his lack of success Zatopek respected him as an athlete and liked him as a person, and the two spent a pleasurable day together. When he dropped Clarke off at the airport, Zatopek embraced him warmly and handed him a small parcel. "Not out of friendship but because you deserve it," he said.

Clarke kept the package in his pocket until his plane was in the air. "I wondered whether I was smuggling something out for him. I retired to the privacy of the lavatory. When I unwrapped the box, there, inscribed with my name and that day's date, was Emil's Olympic 10,000-metre gold medal. I sat on that toilet seat and wept," Clarke said."

I've read this story a hundred times and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes.
22/07/2012 at 15:04
Birkmyre..thanks for that. A great read as were the comments. Didn't Dave Cocksedge used to be a staff writer on AW, way way back?
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