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24 Jul 1952
Helsinki 1952

Zátopková inspired by feats of husband to win javelin gold

One person who had particular cause for delight at Emil Zátopek’s three gold medals was his team-mate Dana Zátopková, who also happened to be his wife.

Born on exactly the same day as her husband, Zátopková had excelled at a range of sports as a youngster, notably handball. She only took up the javelin in her 20s, but her ability was instantly apparent, and just a few years later she represented Czechoslovakia at the 1948 Olympic Games in London, finishing a creditable seventh.

Four years after that she took the Olympic stage by storm. Shortly after watching her husband win the 5,000m, Zátopková was preparing to take to the field for her own event, but made a bee-line for her spouse and demanded to see his gold medal. When he duly produced it, she seized it, put it in her kit bag and said “I'll take it with me for luck”.

Not that there was anything lucky about her performance that day. Her first throw soared beyond 50 metres, and proved to be the longest throw of the day, leaving her ahead of three athletes from the Soviet Union. When Zátopek tongue in cheek, tried to take some of the credit for inspiring his wife’s victory, she replied: “Alright – go and inspire some other girl and see if she can throw fifty metres!”

Zátopková went on to finish fourth at the 1956 Olympic Games, before fighting her way back onto the podium in Rome in 1960 when at nearly 38 years old she won silver to become the oldest woman ever to win an Olympic track and field medal. She also won the European title in 1954 and 1958 and, between those two successes, set a new world record - thus becoming the oldest female javelin thrower to do so.

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