Emil Zatopek

If proof were ever needed that hard work and training pays off for athletes, then one should look no further than Emil Zatopek.

The Czechoslovakian long-distance runner revolutionised training methods and reaped the rewards, winning four Olympic titles across three Games and setting 18 world records at a multitude of distances.

Zatopek raced in an era when amateurism reigned and most athletes trained sporadically, but he introduced a radical new approach that is still used today and his 40 repetitions of the 400m, bookended by 10 lots of 200m sprinting, are legendary.

His regime worked as he destroyed the field to win the 10,000m at the 1948 London Games by a massive 47 seconds and win Czechoslovakia's first Olympic track gold.

But it was his feats four years later in Helsinki that would guarantee his place in Olympic history.

Zatopek began by destroying Alain Mimoun, the man who had finished second in London, on his way to defending his 10,000m crown in a new Olympic record time of 29 minutes, 17 seconds.

He followed that with a stunning last lap of 57.5 seconds as he surged from fourth to win the 5,000m in another new Games best time. Incidentally, his wife Dana won the women's javelin competition on the same day.

Unbelievably Zatopek then announced he would go for a unique treble and race in his first marathon.

British world record holder Jim Peters was among the favourites and Zatopek reportedly asked him after 15km if the pace was too slow. Peters jokingly said yes, so Zatopek increased his speed, dropped the field, and set his third Olympic record of the Games as he triumphed by two and-a-half minutes.

As he entered the stadium to finish the race, the crowd of 70,000 famously rose and chanted Za-to-pek, Za-to-pek, Za-to-pek in recognition of his stunning achievement.

After winning, Zatopek said: "I was unable to walk for a whole week after that, so much did the race take out of me. But it was the most pleasant exhaustion I have ever known."

What makes his feat all the more remarkable is that he was advised by his doctor not to compete in Helsinki due to a gland infection he suffered two months previously.

Four years later in Melbourne, Zatopek was again advised not to compete after suffering a hernia six weeks before the 1956 Games. He defied his doctor, ran, and finished a creditable sixth.

He died in 2000, aged 78, after suffering a stroke.

Where does Zatopek's unique haul of medals rank in your list of Olympic athletic achievement?

Peter Scrivener is a BBC Sport Journalist. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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