Daniela Zatopekova has died at age 97: A unique tribute to the Queen of Czech sports

Daniela Zatopekova, the Czech Republic’s oldest living Olympic gold medalist has died at the age of 97. Daniela died at the Military Hospital In Prague, the Czech Republic on 13 March 2022. Daniela won the 1952 Olympic javelin gold medal, within minutes of her husband, Emil Zatopek, winning his third medal, in the marathon, after winning the 10,000m and 5,000m. Daniela set a Olympic record with her gold medal throw, in 50.47 meters. Six years later, Daniela, after coaching Czech athletes, went back to competition and set a new world record in the javelin of 55.73 meters. Daniela was 35 years old at the time, and her world record (with a wooden javelin) was unique-it gave Daniela recognition as the oldest woman to set a world record at the time.

A fascinating photo, Daniela and Emil celebrating, late into the night, after their medals in Helsinki in 1952, photo via Wikipedia (believe it was also AP)

Daniela was the European champion in the javelin in 1954 and 1956.

In 1960, Daniela competed in the Rome Olympics, taking silver in the javelin. Her husband, Emil, told me a story when I interviewed him in 1991, noting with a chuckle, ” Daniela loved coaching, but it was much tougher than competing as an athlete. So, for Rome, she practiced and won the silver!”

In the next section, I will discuss some personal recollections of the Queen of Czech sports…

Daniela Zatopekova was the wife of Emil Zatopek, the greatest distance runner of all times, in my opinion. Daniela and Emil had the same birthday date. Both were in the Czech military. In the shadow of Emil, Daniela, who was an amazing athlete and talented coach. Daniela’s comeback in the 1960 Olympics, eight years after her Olympic gold, was a mere suggestion of how talented this Czech superstar actually was. In that time, women in their thirties did not compete in sports.


Dana Zatopkova throwing the javelin (1952 gold, 1960 silver), courtesy of CTK (all rights reserved for CTK)

In the Czech Uprising in 1968, both Daniela and Emil were treated poorly. Emil’s back was damaged due to the Soviet-controlled Czech government putting him in a small cell, allowing him only janitorial work and putting him in limited contact with the outside world for eight years. The Zatopeks lived in poverty for those years. It was not until 1979 when George Hirsch of The Runner magazine invited Emil Zatopek to the NYC Marathon was he allowed to leave the country. It seemed as if the Czech government saw that the Zatopeks had paid enough. In 1990, Czech president Vaclav Havel recognized Emil Zatopek and brought him back to his former stature. The truth was, the Czech people never forgot the joy that the Zatopeks had given them in the 1950s and 1960s.

Daniela Zatopekova outlived her husband, Emil, who died on November 22, 2000, by twenty-two years.

This writer met Daniela Zatopekova in 2001, in Edmonton, at the World Championships. It was a unique meeting, and I remember it now, some two decades later.

I had just met Roman Sebrle and Tomas Dvorak, who were quite gracious and as we were chatting, Roman spied this elegant woman across the large theatre hall that was hosting the AIPS meeting. They politely excused themselves and I followed them, as they parted the room of throngs of media, who were hoping for interviews, some wonderful food, and fine wine. On the other side of the hall was a petite, charming woman, who saw these two Olympic decathletes, who look like Greek gods walking through the throng. A smile came across her face as the two Czech decathletes, Olympic medalists, World Champions and former world record holders moved across the room to greet her.

Daniela smiled, as Roman kissed both of her cheeks, and then, her hand. Tomas Dvorak did the same. Daniela was delighted. They spoke in Czech, as they were old friends. Roman explained to me later that Daniela was an amazing athlete and coach. It was obvious that they adored their national treasure. She spoke to both of them knowingly, with the experience that only a seasoned athlete and coach can do.

What I am trying to say is that Daniela Zatopekova was an incredible athlete and coach, as well as the loving and supportive wife that she was. It was not just during the glory years, but it must have been horrific to see the man you love to be humiliated and broken by the Czech communist party. They had almost 40 years together, and Daniela lived another 22 years, living by example, of how a great athlete and patriot, comport oneself in good times and bad times.

RIP, to the Queen of Czech sports, Daniela Zatopekova.

To read a fitting tribute to Daniela Zatopekova, please read this piece I found in the Scotsmen:


To read another tribute to Daniela Zatopekova, this piece was posted in Athletics Illustrated:

Olympic Champion, Dana Zátopková dies at age 97

To read my piece on Roman Sebrle, commenting on Ashton Eaton and his time with Daniela Zatopekova:


To read my piece on Daniela Zatopekova turning 95: