The Human Locomotive
The untidy runner: Emil Zatopek
In recent years, many athletes have been praised for their range over the different events that they participate in. Athletes like Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana, the Netherland’s Sifan Hassan and Great Britain’s Mo Farah have left sports fans marvelling at their abilities over a range of distances. Nonetheless, no one has revolutionised the running world for many years or convinced the running world of such range of greatness as Emil Zatopek. Emil Zatopek, till this day, remains the only athlete to complete an unlikely trio of long distance wins at a single major championships or games.
Like many people who came into running through unexpected circumstances, Zatopek’s story is an interesting one. After leaving school, a young Zatopek began working at the famous Bata shoe factory in Zlin. He was happy to be given the apprenticeship and was quite content with the work. The apprenticeship also gave him the opportunity to continue his education with night classes. On the second Sunday in May of each year, the company organised a mass participation race. Zatopek was ordered by his tutor to take part in the race against his wishes. He tried to get out of this by claiming to be ill, but his tutor sent him to a doctor who confirmed that Zatopek was fine. Now, Zatopek was 18 and wasn’t happy that he was still being treated like a child after years of arriving Zlin to work at Bata. With this anger in him, he went into the race ready to smash it as the adult he thought he was. Zatopek came second. He came second in a field of 100 participants. Clearly, he had the natural talent for this and this was the start of his running journey.
He was then invited to join the local athletic club. He took interest in running and reading about the successes of Paavo Nurmi, the Finnish great of long distance running. He was then able to combine what he read with his own ideas to create a personal training programme that made use of gruelling interval training.