Review: Zátopek, Jan Novák

Rating: 5 out of 5

Emil Zátopek’s story is well worth knowing: not only an extraordinary long distance runner, but also a principled man who is above everything else known for his role in the 1952 Summer Olympics. Mr Novák’s work brings Emil Zátopek to life; while Jaromir99’s illustrations bring the scenes to life before the reader.

Zátopek is first introduced in his youth with the author delineating the background, Zátopek’s early career, and the rigorous training that the athlete set for himself. The sayings that characterise the athlete’s training regimen as well as his attitude to life give the reader an unenviable position into what the man was like. It is also surprising that with so many people working against Emil, he still managed to suuceed in that most spectacular of fashions.

I was first introduced to Zátopek with the infamous episode from Helsinki: “Is this not too fast?”–”It has to be run like this.” This was Zátopek speaking to one of his fellow runners who was hoping that the Czechoslovak would tire himself out early and fall out. Of course, what happened is that Emil kept up the pace until blasting through the finish line, winning the third gold from those Olympics. If that’s not a scene to inspire people to face the hardship head on and still succeed…

What I didn’t expect but what was a very nice addition to this book was the story of Dana Zátopkova, Emil’s wife and javelin thrower extraordinaire. Seeing their flame burn stronger through the two’s shared connection to sport was wonderful. Scenes with Dana’s family were also some of the funniest ones in this book.

Lastly, a word on the art. I was taken aback by the green–red combination. I am sure there’s a reason for this, but it would have been nicer if this had been explained in more depth. As it is, it felt a bit weird… Also, I was sometimes unable to tell the characters apart which was most embarrassing in the scenes with Emil and Dana. However, these small quibbles did not detract from the overall pleasure of this book which I heartily recommend.

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