Attractive, vivacious and talented, Vera Caslavska won four Olympic golds. Her victories were dramatic given that she defeated Soviet gymnasts shortly after Soviet tanks had invaded her homeland.
After winning three gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Games, Vera Caslavska was the favourite to repeat her success in 1968. In April she had signed the “Manifesto of 2000 Words”, which rejected Soviet involvement in Czechoslovakia. Two months before the Olympic Games began, Soviet tanks rolled into Prague.
Warned that she was in danger of being arrested, Caslavska fled to the mountains. In hiding, she kept in shape by swinging from trees and practising her floor exercises in a meadow. After three weeks, the government allowed her to join the rest of the Czech team in Mexico City.
Caslavska competed under enormous pressure against Soviet athletes. Despite the rudimentary preparation, she successfully defended her all-around and vault titles, adding two more golds and two silvers. The Mexican people identified with her stand against oppression, and she became the star of the Games.
Upon her return, she was not allowed to take employment by the Soviet government unless she stated she had not signed the manifesto. She refused. In 1989, after the fall of Communism, she was reinstated as a public figure and became an adviser to President Vaclev Havel.