Today We Die a Little: Emil Zatopek, Olympic Legend to Cold War Hero by Richard Askwith

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Today We Die a Little: Emil Zatopek, Olympic Legend to Cold War Hero by Richard Askwith

Category: Sport
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sean Barrs
Reviewed by Sean Barrs
Summary: From the moments of glory to the moments of adversity, Askwith captures the full life of legendary runner Zatopek within this detailed biography.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: April 2017
Publisher: Yellow Jersey
ISBN: 978-0224100359

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As a runner myself, I often look for sources of inspiration. Training is rewarding, but every so often a day comes along when I question whether it is all worth it or not. Zatopek proves that is, indeed, all worth it. He put copious amounts of effort into his training, and the number of races he won over his career as a professional athlete clearly shows the results of it.

His training regimen is insanely intense by today's standards, and by the standards of his own era it was even more so. He essentially devised his own form of interval training, increasing its intensity until the level reached awe-inspiring amounts of exertion. What Askwith captures here, with his biography of the legendary runner, is the sheer level of determination and single-mindedness Zatopek possessed. Illness got in the way of his preparation on several occasions, but he never gave up; he did some astonishing things to ensure he got fitter, and fitter.

For example, when he couldn't go outside to run due to bad weather he would simply run on the spot for extended periods of time. He would even do it whilst on guard duty during his time in the military. He was driven by a desire for self-improvement. However, he was also an excellent sportsman. The biography also considers his attitude to other competitors, the respect and encouragement he always gave to them. Despite all his accomplishments, Zatopek never stooped to arrogance. He was calm and he was focused; he was a legendary joker and was renowned for being able to find fun in any situation. He captivated the world when he ran in the Olympics, and his legacy still lingers on today.

Such things, though, are widely known about Zatopek. The true success of Akswith's writing is his ability to get really close to the man. He travelled to the locations where the runner trained, jogged and belted his heart out on the track. The writing brings these sessions to life. The races as told here were energetic and intense even when I knew the endings. They are the words of a runner admiring an extraordinary athlete in the sport. He retells how Zatopek met his wife Dana, and considers how Zatopek's gold medal glory pushed her to reach for the same. His passion for Zatopek and running gives the book an added edge.

The biography goes beyond Zatopek's glory days; the days when he was at his peak, winning three gold medals in one set of Olympic Games, and considers the trials he went through in order to succeed. Indeed, Askwith considers how he got there and what he had to deal with at the time. His life was a constant struggle, but his spirit never faltered even when he was disgraced from his post in the military over political disagreement. He had a lot of pressure on him from his nation of Czechoslovakia; he was their poster boy: their inspiration. He did his utmost best never to let them down. But as Askwith noted, the main person he ran for was himself. He always wanted to do better.

This book captures the essence of Zatopek's life, and if you like books about running then it's worth checking out The Ultimate Guide to Marathon Running by Lucas Ellis. You might also like This Mum Runs by Jo Pavey.

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