Rick Broadbent’s account of the remarkable feats of Czechoslovak long-distance runner Emil Zátopek has been shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award. Endurance: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Emil Zátopek, is one of seven titles in contention for what is the longest-running prize for sports writing.
Zátopek reached the upper echelons of stardom after winning a triple-gold at the 1952 Summer Olympic Games: the Czech first won over 5,000 and 10,000m – setting world records in both – before deciding, at the last minute, to compete over 26.2 miles.
The tale of Zátopek asking Jim Peters, the pre-race favourite, if he was going fast enough, has become folklore in long-distance running. The Englishman replied, “no, it isn’t fast enough”, thinking the Czech runner would derail if he continued at the same speed. Zátopek won the marathon (Jim eventually withdrew), making the Czech the only athlete to win the three events in the same Olympics.
Zátopek achievements are manifold but it is also the political and historical accounts of the athlete’s life that comes under Broadbent’s focus. The author recounts Zátopek being cast aside and expelled by the Czech army in 1968, and suffering countless indignities before coming in from the cold following Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution.
Endurance is said to offer a story that has been brought to life by dramatic accounts of Zatopek’s great triumphs, a rich collection of characters vying to dethrone him, all set against the backdrop of Cold War politics and paranoia.
The winner of the award will be announced at an afternoon reception at BAFTA, in central London, on Thursday 24 November and will receive a cash prize of £28,000, alongside a free £2,500 William Hill bet, and a day at the races.