Dana Zátopková

January 2014 Woman of Steel

Dana Zátopková was nominated for the Women of Steel project by the Osteologic Academy of Zlín because of her work with the society and its patients, as well as her role as a public advocate for sports and healthy living as one of the Czech Republic’s greatest-ever athletes.

Dana Zátopková comes from Uherské Hradiště, a small town in Moravia, not far from Zlín. She became active in sports while studying at a Gymnázium (Secondary school). First she played tennis and team handball, then after the WWII she turned into athletics, with a specialty in javelin.

Emil Zátopek, her late-husband, was working in the Tomas Bata shoe factory at the time the couple met for the first time during an athletic competition in Zlín in 1948. In October, the same year, after returning from the Olympic Games in London, the couple got married.

Their luck came in Helsinki, at the Olympic Games of 1952. Dana received a gold medal in javelin, and Emil received gold medals in the 5 km run, a 10 km run and also the marathon, which he ran the first time in his life. Emil Zátopek became a national hero. Dana, for her part, went on to compete in four straight Olympics.  She set a world record in the javelin in 1958, and then went on to win the silver medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics before she retired and became a coach.

After the Prague Spring in 1968, Dana and her husband, advocates for the democratization of the Soviet occupied Czech Republic, fell out of favor with the government. Refusing to leave their native country, they suffered harsh punishments because of their political beliefs.

After the country returned to democracy in 1989, the couple were vindicated by then-President Václav Havel, and eventually awarded a number of prestigious national awards in recognition for their outstanding athletic achievements.

Dana Zátopková still holds the last world record in javelin with a wooden spear. After finishing her career, she worked as a youth trainer in athletics for the spear discipline, and later she trained aspiring athletes in shot putting as well. She worked closely with the International Athletic Federation throughout her life, and she is still a member of the board of the Czech Olympians Club. Dana was awarded an Olympic Order in 1988, and 15 years later she received a State Decoration, the Medal of Merit.

Dana Zátopková suffered a severe fracture at the age of 85, and since then, she has had a difficult time walking. While her mobility is limited, Dana remains an important public advocate for the promotion of sports and athletics in the Czech Republic and has shown throughout her long and incredible history that she is a true Woman of Steel.

IOF Woman of Steel, Dana Zátopková

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