Olympics History >> Helsinki 1952 >> Key Moments

Helsinki 1952 - Key Moments

Zatopek: The human train

Emil Zatopek arrived in Helsinki with an already-established running reputation, making him one of the favorites. Zatopek exceeded all expectations in Helsinki by winning gold medals in the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and the marathon -- a feat that likely will never be repeated.

On July 20, the Czech athlete, who had won a gold medal in the 10,000 meters and a silver medal in the 5,000 meters in the 1948 Olympics, brought his account up to date by retaining his 10,000-meter title. He crossed the finish line 15 seconds and 100 meters ahead of his nearest rival, Franco-Algerian Alain Mimoun, and established a new world record of 29:17.00.

Two days later, Zatopek and Mimoun squared up again in the 5,000 meters, and again, Zatopek took the gold and set a new Olympic record (14:06.6), but was only eight-tenths of a second ahead of Mimoun, who ran an impressive last lap to catch up with his rival.

A few hours after the race, both Zatopek and his wife, Dana, were able to congratulate each other after she won a gold and set a new Olympic record in the women's javelin event with a throw of 50.47 meters.

Face of death

The man who was nicknamed "the human locomotive" was, despite his reputation and ability, a frightening sight. Zatopek, his head rolling and his tongue hanging out, ran with an accompanying grimace and seemed to be forever on the verge of breakdown.

One thing was clear -- the Czechoslovakian army soldier had perfected a method of training that saw him combine daily runs of 30 kilometers with sprint work and muscle training. The only challenge remaining for Zatopek was the marathon -- the pinnacle of his success.

First try, first win

Racing for the first time at the marathon -- at least officially -- Zatopek took the lead at the midway point, slipping past the two athletes who, until then, had been able to keep up with him.

He set himself up for an unforgettable victory in a time of 2:23:03.02. During the race, Zatopek had been seen waving to the crowd and even chatting with roadside spectators.

At the finish line, members of the Jamaican 4x400-meter relay team carried him to his wife to enjoy his victory, and he signed autographs as he went along.

After briefly enjoying his victory, Zatopek returned to the finish line with some fresh oranges in hand to welcome the next arrival -- Argentina's Reinaldo Gorno, who came in 2 minutes and 32 seconds later.

Thanks to his memorable week in Finland, Zatopek added further Olympic glory to what was an already highly successful career.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.

Moment in Time