1952 Olympic javelin champion Zatopkova passes away at the age of 97

Dana Zatopkova
Czech Olympic Team

Dana Zatopkova won the gold medal in the javelin at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki on the same day husband Emil Zatopek won the 5000m title

European Athletics is very saddened to hear of the passing of 1952 Olympic javelin champion Dana Zatopkova who died on Friday (13) at the age of 97.

“Dana Zatopkova was not only a great athlete, but above all she was a great person. She was a role model for generations of Olympians. We are deeply saddened to have lost her,” said President of the Czech Olympic Committee Jiri Kejval.  

Zatopkova represented Czechoslovakia at four Olympic Games, making her debut in 1948 in London where she finished seventh. Zatopkova improved markedly in the ensuing four years to clinch the gold medal at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki before falling short of the podium in her third Olympic appearance in Melbourne where she finished fourth.

However, Zatopkova was to return to the Olympic podium on her farewell to major championships competition at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome where she won silver. At 37 years and 348 days, Zatopkova remains the oldest woman to win an Olympic medal in the javelin.

Zatopkova was also a standout performer on the European stage and remains only one of two women - the other being East Germany’s Ruth Fuchs in 1974 and 1978 - to win back-to-back titles at the European Championships in the javelin. Zatopkova won gold for the first time in Berne in 1954 before highlighting the 1958 European Championships in Stockholm with a world record of 56.02m.

With Emil Zatopek, Dana - whose maiden name was Ingrova - was part of one of the most famous sporting couples in the world. They met at athletics meetings, and when they discovered they shared the same birthday they took it as a sign. They were married in October 1948.

Four years later at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, both Emil and Dana won gold medals. Emil famously swept the 5000m, 10,000m and marathon titles with his win in the 5000m coming on the same day as Dana's triumph the javelin. 

“Emil and I shared many beautiful years together. I most value the fact that we always made each other laugh. We had so much fun and frequently we literally rolled about laughing. These are very fond memories,” said Zatopkova a few years ago.

She remained involved in sport after her competitive retirement in 1962. She took up coaching and was a member of the IAAF's women’s commission between 1960 and 1972. Zatopkova was awarded the Olympic Order in 1998 and was presented with the Medal for Merit in 2013. Even after reaching the age of 90, she remained actively engaged in the Olympic Movement.

Among those to pay tribute to Zatopkova were Barbora Spotakova, the current world record-holder and two-time Olympic javelin champion. 

“Every meeting with her was always very pleasant. She was very interested in what is happening at the moment, she knew everything about us – where and when we were at competitions. She was also interested in young athletes, especially javelin throwers. Dana was an amazing woman,” she said.