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19-1-2020, 04:29 UTC
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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 time again.
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.
Greg MacDonald