For a decade after the Second World War, Emil Zátopek”the Czech Locomotive”redefined his sport, pushing back the frontiers of what was considered possible in terms of training, record-setting, and medal winning. He won five Olympic medals, set 18 world records, and went undefeated over 10,000 metres for six years. His dominance has never been equaled. And in the darkest days of the Cold War, he stood for a spirit of generous friendship that transcended nationality and politics. Zátopek was an energetic supporter of the Prague Spring in 1968, championing “socialism with a human face” in Czechoslovakia.
But for this he paid a high price. After the uprising was crushed by Soviet tanks, the hardline Communists had their revenge. Zátopek was expelled from the army, stripped of his role in national sport, and condemned to years of hard and degrading manual labor: cleaning toilets in a uranium mine. Only the protests of the sporting world saved him from a worse fate. By the time he was rehabilitated in 1989, he was old and broken, a shadow of the man he had been. Based on interviews with people across the world who knew him, as well as his widow, fellow Olympian Dana Zátopková, journalist Richard Askwith breathes new life into the man and the myth and uncovers a glorious age of athletics and an epoch-defining time in world history.