Prague, Czech Republic – Czech director David Ondříček has started the shooting of a biopic on Emil Zatopek, the legendary Czechoslovak runner, and his wife Dana, a javelin thrower, one of the most iconic sporting couples in history.
David Ondříček, who won a Czech Lion Award for his most recent film Dukla, talked to Radio Prague about the start of the Zátopek biopic shooting in Březnice, some 70 kilometers south-west of Prague: “There are not many stadiums in the Czech Republic today that look as they did in the 1940’s. The one in Březnice is perfect. The place is really photogenic and we didn’t have to make that many changes”.
Emil and Dana Zátopek, born on the same day and year, arguably make up the most iconic sporting couple in history. The pair is particularly know for winning a combined total of four gold medals at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki.
Emil Zátopek himself made history at the same Olympic Games, winning three gold medals (5.000 meters, 10.000 meters and marathon) while setting a new record in each one of these long-distance races. Nicknamed the Czech Locomotive, known for his tough training methods, peculiar and agitated style of running and tortured facial expressions, Emil Zátopek is widely viewed as one of the greatest runners of the 20th century.
Born in Moravia in then-Czechoslovakia, he worked as a child at a factory of the now-iconic Baťa shoe factories in Zlin. An international star and influential figure in the Czechoslovak Communist party in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, Emil Zátopek’s fate took a turn for the worse after he openly supported the 1968 Prague Spring.
Expelled from the party and the army after the liberalization movement was crushed by Soviet tanks, he was forced out of Prague into a string a manual labour jobs before being gradually rehabilitated in the 1980’s and ultimately by Vaclav Havel in 1990. He died in 2000, leaving behind Dana Zátopková, his widow now aged 96, and countless legends.
“I have always been fascinated by Emil Zátopek, not only by his career, but by his nature, which is not really typically Czech. I have always admired his optimism and his approach to life”, director David Ondříček said.
Richard Askwith, who wrote a biography of Zátopek a few years back, described him as someone with “an amazing, colourful, inspiring, haunting story: a man who won five Olympic medals, set 18 world records, redefined the limits of human endurance, became a global byword for sportsmanship and generosity – and was driven into lonely obscurity by the communists after standing up for ‘socialism with a human face'”.