Olympic gold medallist

Born: September 19, 1922;

Died: March 13, 2020.

DANA Zátopková, who has died aged 97, won Olympic gold for Czechoslovakia in the javelin throw at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics shortly after her husband Emil Zatopek won gold in the 5,000m, one of three he famously claimed there.

Although sometimes overshadowed by his achievements she was very much a top-drawer athlete. She also won silver at the 1960 Rome Olympics and was European champion in 1954 and 1958, in which year she also set a world record. They were, for a while, undoubtedly the world’s most famous sporting couple.

As she prepared in Helsinki she met Emil, from whom she took his gold medal ‘for luck’. She then threw a lifetime best on her first throw to clinch gold in a new Olympic record. A famous photograph was taken of her kissing Emil before performing a cartwheel of delight. The Helsinki Official Report referred to her as ‘the happiest gold medallist of the Games.’

Dana Ingrova was born in Frystat before the family moved to Uherske Hradiste, where her father was an army colonel. As a youngster she was a talented all-rounder in various sports, winning a national title at handball.

Later she studied physical education at Brno University and in 1946 attended an athletics course where she first tried javelin throwing. That same year she progressed to winning the first of many national titles.

In 1948 at an athletics meeting in Zlin she met Emil, to whom she was tasked with presenting a bouquet for his latest national record. Shortly after they both travelled together for a competition in Bratislava, which signalled the start of their romance.

With only weeks to go she attained the qualification mark for the 1948 London Olympics where she went as part of a couple with Emil. While seventh place was commendable for an Olympic debut, she found everything very inspiring, later commenting: “I was so impressed by the stadium full of 100,000 people, the King and Queen at the Opening, ....it was just wonderful for me, a girl from the country. The spirit of the Olympics was palpable, it was there I started to take my sport seriously.”

Shortly afterwards she and Zatopek married in Uherske Hradiste before setting up home in Prague. Gradually she improved her world ranking to fourth in 1951, and the following winter she increased the intensity of her training in pursuit of Olympic gold. The defence of her Olympic title resulted in fourth place in 1956 in Melbourne. In 1958 she set her world record, aged 35, and in the 1960 Rome Olympics gained silver when almost 38.

Her contribution to the sport was recognised with various awards including the Olympic Order in 1988.

She coached and worked in administration in the national athletics federation while Emil rose to Colonel in the army as they built a house in a Prague suburb. Life was good but that changed after Dubcek’s liberalist ‘Czech Spring’ in 1968 which both supported. After the Soviet invasion both suffered considerable hardship and seven years passed before the regime ‘forgave’ them. They were fully rehabilitated once democratic President Havel took power in 1989, when several prestigious awards were bestowed on them.

Emil predeceased Dana in 2000. The couple had no children.

Jiri Kejval, head of the Czech Olympic Committee was quoted,” Dana Zátopková was a role-model for generations of Olympians – she was an excellent athlete but also a great person.”