AP WAS THERE: 1952 Helsinki Games

The Associated Press was there when runner Emil Zatopek of the Czech Republic pulled off the unprecedented feat of winning gold in the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and the marathon at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland

HELSINKI -- EDITORS — With the Tokyo Olympics postponed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, The Associated Press is looking back at the history of Summer Games. This story was published in The Sunday Star in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 3 1952. The story, describing Czech Republic distance runner Emil Zatopek capturing gold at the 1952 Olympics in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters as well as the marathon is reprinted here as it ran using the contemporary style, terminology and including any published errors.

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By Milt Marmor

Associated Press

Helsinki, Aug. 2 — Is Emil Zatopek possible?

Tens of thousands saw the incredible Czech win the Olympic 5,000 meters, then the 10,000 meters and climax it all by capturing the marathon. But they may have trouble convincing those who were not here that it really happened.

Emil, the human dynamo, did more than exhaust his opponents.

In one unbelievable Olympic week, he drained what cynical souls once claimed was the inexhaustible adjectival fount of the sports writers.

Who is this man who grimaces as if he were being tortured as he runs an easy race — easy, that is, for the implausible human?

What manner of man is this who decides he will run and win the most trying of races, the marathon, and then does so without a sign of agony, even though he had never run the 26 miles, 385 yards before in his life?

Zatopek is 29 years old. He was born in Koprinivice, Czechoslovakia. He is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs about 150 pounds. His face is rugged but pleasantly handsome. He has blond but thinning hair.

PLAYED CATCH WITH JAVELIN

His wife was so inspired by her husband that she won the Olympic women's javelin championship the same day he won the 5,000-meter run. He is a staff captain in the Czech Army, the equivalent of major in the United States Army.

Zatopek is the same man who, in England, while waiting for the 1948 London Olympics to start, courted his wife, then Dana Ingrova, by playing catch with her with a javelin.

Emil is the same man who would speak volubly and pleasantly in any of five languages to any reporter to cared to question him before the present Olympic Games began.

Yet after he had won the marathon, just as he said he would, he darted through a host of reporters, leaped into a car and went back to camp to sleep. He didn’t care to be bothered.

Zatopek is the man who during the marathon slipped back to Britain's Jim Peters — holder of the fastest known time for the distance — and asked him if the pace was “proper.”

Then he sped forward again. Later in the race, he asked Peters whether he (Zatopek) was going too fast. He was going too fast for the Englishman, all right. Peters by now had developed a cramp and soon dropped out.

HEAT TURNED INTO MOCKERY

Zatopek is the runner who during a heat in the 5,000, when every one was struggling hard to qualify, made a mockery of the race. Emil dropped well back to advise Curtis Stone of the United States that he had better move up or he would “miss the bus.” When he saw Stone couldn't make it, Zatopek shrugged his shoulders and went back to the leaders again.

This same Zatopek directed traffic during the last lap of that race. He instructed the Russian, Aleksander Anoufriev, to finish first.

Zatopek cracked joked during this heat and jockeyed back and forth among the leaders and the trailers to encourage them, egg them on, or simply pass the time of day. Most of these athletes were running the fastest race of their lives.

In the marathon, Zatopek talked to cyclists, to newsmen in the accompanying bus, to the other runners — all this in a race for which he was not prepared and for which normal humans tear out their hearts in training.

The wonder runner happens to be a charming pixy. He is also a somewhat cynical, rather brilliant man, who laughs at the world and his fellow athletes — and himself.

He finished the marathon before the most extraordinary demonstration veteran sports writers here ever had seen. The roar that greeted his arrival in the stadium was like the bursting of a mountain top.

TIMES SHOW CONSISTENCY

His times for the four successive 5,000 meters were 14:57.5, 14:55.9, 15:01.2 and 14:47.2. He ran two straight 10,000 meters in 29:53.4 and 29:58.4.

How many humans can select the best day of their lives and match any one of the individual split times? Zatopek broke almost every distance mark during that jaunt.

Is it any wonder that most observers in these Olympics made Zatopek the favorite in any race he ran?

One British writer said: “You Americans are lucky Zatopek didn't decide to win the 100 and 200 meters as well.”

Medical men have wondered, too, about Zatopek. They found that he has an abnormally large heart with an abnormally low pulse frequency. This is common with many runners, one must hasten to explain.

PULSE GOES FROM 68 to 168

A Czech specialist found after an amazing 20,000-meter race won in 59:51.8, that Zatopek's pulse was 168 per minute. It was 68 before he started. Four minutes after he finished the pulse was 108, after six minutes it was 98 and after three hours it was his normal 56.

The Zatopek heart measures 5.47 inches in diameter. It has hardly changed in size in the years he has been running.

He once stepped off and on a 19 3/8-inch platform 150 times in five minutes. Doctors found his pulse rose from 56 to 70. The latter beat is about normal for the average human.

Many great athletes have abnormal hearts. Zatopek is an abnormal athlete with a great heart, with an indomitable will, with an infinite capacity for hard work and with immense strength of character.

Yes, Zatopek is possible — but only because he is Zatopek.

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Source: The Sunday Star, Washington, D.C.. Retrieved by AP researcher Francesca Pitaro.

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