I have never, ever recovered from my meeting with the late Emil Zatopek. I consider him and his wife, Daniela, to be the epitome of sportsmanship and Olympic conduct. I met Emil in 1991, and his wife, Daniela, after Emil’s death, in 2001. Today, while reading about Philip Dunn’s 50 kilometer race walk victory, I considered the Olympic ideal. I am curious to see what you think about my musings….
Nearly sixteen years ago, Joe Mangan, my coaching comrade at Foothill Community College, and I, had the great honor of spending the day with the late Emil Zatopek. Emil had been in the Bay Area for some physical tests to determine the severity of injuries that were then twenty plus years old. After the examinations, where he was told he would never run again, we took Emil to a track meet at Hartnell college, then on to Carmel for a visit with some old friends.
In 1968, Emil Zatopek, the most beloved man in his country, supported the government of Andrei Dubjeck, which called for a lessening of the Soviet hold on the Czech Republic. The Soviets responded with tanks and iron fists. Zatopek was thrown in jail, beaten and demoted in the Czech military. For many years, he was not allowed to leave the country. He supported Daniela and himself as a janitor-in Soviet controlled Czechlaslovakia, he did not exist. The injuries, which he would not speak about, were so severe that he was unable to run. Zatopek and Dubjeck had been twenty-plus years too early. Revolutionaries pay for their thoughts, words and deeds. Olympic medals did not protect Zatopek.
Emil told us many stories that day, many I have on four hours of tapes I made with him that day. What came across on that lovely spring day in 1991 was how much of an honorable man that Emil was, and how much he treasured his Olympic experiences. He told me how Alain Mimoun, who he had defeated countless times in Euro and Olympic clashes, had waited for him in 1956 at the Olympic marathon line, when Alain finally won and Zatopek, injured, had taken sixth. Alain wanted to share with Emil the news of Alain’s first daughter’s (who he named Olympia) birth. Emil seemed so proud to be included in Alain’s special day. Emil spoke of the Olympic ideal and that the most important concept was to be a good sportsmen.
I ask you to consider Emil Zatopek, the winner of five Olympic medals, world record holder nearly twenty times in his career, fierce patriot, who gave up his abilty to run for the country he loved. In my mind, whether he had won medals or not, Zatopek got it-the Olympic ideal, citius, altius, fortius. He ran in a time when there was no money in the sport, when Zatopek would go up to all in a 10,000 meter race, greet them, shake their hand and then thrashed them to an inch of their lives over the next thirty minutes. He was the dominant sportsman of his day, and perhaps ours. He ran because he had to-he was an Olympian.
Now consider, for a moment, race walker Philip Dunn. On February 9, 2008, in Miami, Florida, two time Olympic, Pan Am bronze medalist, Philip Dunn took the lead after 38 kilometers from Matthew Boyles, and put two minutes on Mr. Boyles over the last twelve kilometers of said race. In hot, humid weather, Dunn walked his way to his third Olympic team, provided he can get under the Olympic B standard of four hours, seven minutes ( Dunn walked 3:59:12 in 2004).
Consider walking 31.6 miles at just a step over eight minutes a mile. And, 24 miles into said situation, one must pick up the pace a bit to force a break between this young athlete who looks too good to let stick with Dunn past forty kilometers. Keeping your head about you, much less your form, and knowing that there are six plus miles to go, must be a a circle of the Inferno only race walkers can understand.
Philip Dunn is an Olympian. He race walks because he has to, because there is that inner voice that tells him he has not achieved what he was made to achieve. He is also an athlete in the Golden State, where we publish California Track & Running News. We are honored to congratulate Philip Dunn, 2008 Olympian, 50 kilometer race walker. We wish him a sub four hour seven minute 50 kilometer race walk in his next race!
For more on the Golden state, please checkhttp://www.caltrack.com