Greg MacDonald about Emil Zátopek ...
I was born in 1951 and I grew up in the land of hockey, Canada.
Normally you would think my heroes would be hockey players, but
they weren't. My hero was a person most of my friends had never
heard about, or even knew how to pronounce his name. My pals
thought I looked normal enough, and I did like hockey, and I did
have hockey heroes, but the King of all my Hero's was Emil
Zatopek, a God in my world.
I can't really remember the first time I became aware of "The
Locomotive" and all his exploits, maybe I was 10 or 11 years old.
I do remember reading about this incredible Czech athlete, and
seeing video clips of his feats at the Olympics, and many other
races on television.
Zatopek epitomized the true grit in sports. His monumental
training regimen was legendary. He personified dedication,
sacrifice, perseverance to his trade. "Never give up", was his
watchword, and demonstrated this drive for perfection time and
In the early 90's in Halifax Nova Scotia, a local runner put
together a team of local elite runners to try and win the Cabot
Trail Relay Race, and The Rum Runners Relay Race. He called his
team, "Team Z". I was shocked, surprised, and pleased to learn,
the team was named as a tribute to Zatopek. This elite team won
many team relay races in the 90's in Canada.
After I retired form the telephone company, I took a job as a car
salesman. One day, this distinguished older gentleman, riding a
bicycle, pedaled up to the dealership. The other sales people
were poking fun at me as I went to greet him. "What will you give
him if he trades in that bike for a new car?", one of them said.
I ignored their taunts. I invited the elderly gentleman into my
office and I asked what I could do for him. It turned out he was
looking for a used tractor to pull out tree stumps on his
property. I told him we didn't sell tractors but I showed him
where he might get a tractor at a reasonable price. As we talked,
I was fascinated by his accent. I asked him where he was from,
and he said the Czech Republic, a retired concert violinist. I
told him how proud I was of his countryman, Emil Zatopek. He
proceeded to tell me he actually shook hands with Zatopek once. I
immediately reached over and shook this man's hand saying,
"that's as close as I will ever get to that great man."
The odd thing about their meeting was, it wasn't in
Czechoslovakia, he told me. It seems he was on a concert tour and
the orchestra was playing in Helsinki, Finland. After the concert
some of the orchestra was invited to the Czech Embassy for a
party. Zatopek was at the party and my violinist actually got to
shake his hand.
When this fine gentleman left the dealership I told my cohorts,
"that man shook Emil Zatopek's hand, the hand that shook the
world". No one in the group knew who I was talking about. That
was a great day in my world. I couldn't wait to get home to tell
my wife about it.
I still run most days but I'm getting older, fatter, and slower.
Emil would not be proud. But, on some early mornings, (Not very
many anymore) I can still kick it down a notch, and dream I'm
running with Zatopek.
Whether I win this contest or not, when my wife retires in 4
years, we will plan to visit the Land of Zatopek, and make new
memories. And taste the beer.
Thank you for the opportunity.