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Today We Die a Little!: The Inimitable Emil Zátopek, the Greatest Olympic Runner of All Time
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Today We Die a Little!: The Inimitable Emil Zátopek, the Greatest Olympic Runner of All Time

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  852 ratings  ·  82 reviews
"We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to enjoy something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon." -- Emil Zápek

For a decade after the Second World War, Emil Zápek -- "the Czech locomotive" -- redefined the sport of distance running, pushing back the frontiers of what was considered possible. He won five Olympic medals,
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published May 24th 2016 by Bold Type Books
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Start your review of Today We Die a Little!: The Inimitable Emil Zátopek, the Greatest Olympic Runner of All Time
Sean Barrs
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 es
Nov 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
At the October Book Café we were presented with a list of contenders for the William Hill prize for sports writing. Well, yawn, I thought... and then we decided on 'an unfamiliar genre' as our next theme, so I thought maybe a sports biography, the sort of thing people get for Christmas to give men who are difficult to buy for. And there was Zatopek, a name from the past that I remembered as significant (and the book would not be all about running, surely, given the politics of Czechoslovakia). I ...more
Pekka Termonen
Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Thank you Richard Askwith! I read the book in two days. Finns chanted him 'Satu Peka' (i.e. Pekka, my first name) transl. Fairy-tale Pete. "His defining characteristic was that 'he tried everything differently'." His was criticized for his running style. "Emil shrugged off such jibes. 'I will run with perfect style when they start judging races for their beauty, like figure-skating'... 'For now, I just want to run as fast as possible'." He was very clever, spoke eight languages, Finnish among ot ...more
Sep 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A decent enough biography of the great Emil Zátopek who won the gold medals at 5,000 metres, 10,000 metres and the marathon at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. It's a well researched volume and the author has travelled to get some key interviews but I could have probably done with a bit less of the commie bashing - one almost expected Askwith to start ranting about 'pinkos' such is the facile way he describes the admittedly pretty venal Czechoslovak regime. How so far Zátopek collaborated with or ...more
Henry Bickerstaff
Aug 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What was it like to be a world class world record holder and be manipulated by your Government. A Government that controlled every day of your life and your very existence. What happens when you fall out of favor and exiled within your own Country. This is a great read about the Man Zatopek and the history of Czechoslovakia.
Jun 22, 2016 rated it liked it
“Every running enthusiast over a certain age knows something about Zátopek — or thinks they do. But much of it is no more than hearsay: legends and half-truths endlessly recycled and re-embroidered. Many of the most famous tales are simply false. Even those of us who idolize him — who see him, as I do, as a kind of patron saint of running — are liable to find, on closer inspection, that we know far less about him than we think…It is the human side of Zátopek’s story that is still capable of brig ...more
Girish Jadhav
May 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Life is the most precious thing we have, and even though it just treated us badly, we live on; and we can find a corner where we will feel comfortable even in a table drawer.
Jack Greenwood
This biopic has everything: an athlete competing at Olympian level (1948, 1952 and 1956); the backdrop of an emerging bipolar world; the threat and deception of an intrusive state; unadulterated joy. Zatopek’s legend is raised to mythical standards.

Zatopek was a Czechoslovak hero and world-famous athlete in the 1950s. He later became a cult-hero, albeit with wildly varying levels of public appreciation.

Askwith delves deep into the historical context of his era, unveiling the cultural and polit
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
"That was the thing about Emil. He was a romantic: the most romantic of all runners. He looked for romance not just in love, but in friendship; and not just in friendship, but in sport. He took something mundane - "putting one foot in front of the other, as fast as possible, for as long as possible"(...) and made it into a thrilling adventure, a daring exploration, in which all were welcome to join him, of just how far a human being could reach. He could have just been a runner who won races. In ...more
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Emil was far from perfect, but he had a good crack at it. Beautifully written, a great insight into a great man. Inspirational, moving, wonderful... I laughed, I cried. Also, he's right about the beer. ...more
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful telling of an incredible story.
Tim Atkinson
Sep 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A book of 2 halves. Really enjoyed both and sad at how things can be forgotten so quickly and how fame can really bring about opinions from everyone.
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
For a decade (1940-1950) no man dominated track events like Emil Zatopek. More interestingly was how he did it.

Zatopek didn't have the 'eye of the tiger' as he moved around during warm-ups. He gave his competitors a pat on the back and an encouraging word. He was a friend to all athletes and runners - a true ambassador. "Great is the victory, but greater still is the friendship"- Zatopek

Once the gun sounded make no mistake, Zatopek was a savage competitor and his physical training preparation w
Matt Lieberman
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you’ve read anything about running history you are probably aware of Emil Zatopek, and can roll off his major biographical details and characteristics: his 1952 sweep of distance running events in the Olympics, his herky-jerky form that was described by one sportswriter as “like a man wrestling with an octopus on a conveyer belt,” and some poor treatment from the Communist Czechoslovakian regime after he retired from running. While Zatopek’s name is still revered in running history (he was na ...more
Feb 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best Zatopek bio I have read (including the czech ones)

- good from sporting perspective
- great from historical perspective (the parts after the Prague spring in 1968 is very good)

I highly recommend every runner to read it.
Keith Comfort
Jun 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Interesting book. I didn't know much about his life, other than the gold medals, until I read this. He was quite an interesting person. ...more
Phil Enscoe
Sep 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
for anyone who has loved to run, it's a great book. And, for anyone who lived through the Cold War, it's an insiders view of what really happened. ...more
Dec 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
I died a little while reading this.
Oct 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A Great Book about a Great Man.
Read a good biography and you'll know the subject better than you know most of your acquaintances. In "Today We Die a Little!" Richard Askwith recreates Emil Zatopek and his life and times vividly and with a clear eyed objectivity, yet with an affection and warmth for his subject that permeates every paragraph and brought tears to my eyes when the book ended with a description of how, as Zatopek's coffin was being transported through the streets ". . . the bells of
Dana Larose
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm not the type to have role models, but if I were to pick one, Emil Zatopek seems like a good choice. I knew a little bit about him before but I enjoyed reading an in-depth biography. Zatopek utterly dominated distance running in the late 40s and 50s. Among his accomplishments was being the first person to run 10k in less than 29 minutes and is still the only person to ever win gold medals in the 5000m, 10000m and marathon events in the same Olympics (which he did in 1952).

I don't know if he
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Like many non-runners from outside of Czech Republic, my exposure to Emil Zatopek was through "Olympic Moments". There was an immediate appeal to his "everyman" persona, his tireless hard work, and most of all his emphasis on sportsmanship and friendship. That he did it amidst the turmoil behind the Iron Curtain makes his achievements all the more astonishing (some have argued that his soft military job gave him an advantage, yet I wonder if anyone from the West would have traded places). In tha ...more
Apr 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
An absolutely phenomenal book. I think that due to the subject matter, even if a worse writer were to have made this biography - I still would have loved every page. The fact that the biographer was excellent, makes this book all the more enchanting. The thoroughly researched material, balanced opinions about his colourful past, and riveting descriptions of his many successful races (including the rare few he didn't win) were an absolute joy to read.

What really took me by surprise, was the sudd
Aug 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Solid biography of possibly the greatest long-distance runner of all time. At the 1952 Olympics, Zatopek achieved a feat unequalled to this day by winning an epic 5,000m race, destroying the field in the 10,000m, and then winning the marathon in a world record time (his first ever marathon race by the way). His training regime was legendary- Zatopek did not go running in the traditional sense, rather, he only done interval training. Anyone who is a serious runner knows how tough this type of tra ...more
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this book for 2 reasons:
1 - I was told something of the legend Zatopek by my grandfather when growing up in the '70s. The cry "Za-to-pek" from Zatopek's adoring fans was etched on my grandfather's memory. I was intrigued!
2 - As a relatively new runner I wanted to read a bit about the man behind the achievements.

I would say the first two-thirds of the book zipped past. His methods were remarkable for the time. Training techniques much more like modern methods than what his contemporaries w
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Memorable part of the book -- Zatopek reflects on how he lived in first
Nazi occupied Czech then Communist controlled Czech and why didn't
the Czech people resist the invading armies. The people knew their history
and during the migrations of people 1200-1300 times of goths, huns, mogols,
and the invading armies conquered their land and created havoc -- it
seemed in the 20th Century survival meant acceptance of the terms
of the Nazi and Soviet Empires though in their minds they could not be completely
Dec 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Emil Zatopek was arguably the greatest distance runner of the 20th Century (Paavo Nurmi would be his only competition for that title), and this well-researched biography does him justice. Zatopek's life -- a boy from a poor family who takes up running as an afterthought, develops peculiar and innovative training techniques, becomes an Olympic champion, and then has to learn to balance fame, an outgoing personality and life in a repressive political regime -- is tailor-made for the retelling. As ...more
Aug 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating man. Worth the read on this individual and his accomplishments. The strides he made in running and the life he lead in a country controlled by the Soviets.

The book itself, is written with a little too much detail to races won and times. The author runs on and on at times and interjects his opinions siting them as facts. There are a good many pages that the editor should have cut down on in the middle, which you may find yourself skimming.

But overall it's enjoyable. I can't but he
Ananya Gupta
Jul 07, 2019 rated it liked it
The life and times of Emil Zatopek is a charming compilation . A storyline that goes from early childhood till his death, this book, surprisingly enough, just does not concentrate on the accomplishments on the field. Rather the emphasis does come unto the person, his quirks and personality. The socialist regime, the consequences of having to live under a constant threat and the hardships are described well. There are some parts where it meanders a bit adding in repeated references or similar ins ...more
Liam Polkinghorne
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interval training was an idea that had been around, but Zatopek took it to another level of suffering, up to 100x400m at a fast pace with 150m jog in between. Running is easily understandable: you must be fast enough and you must have endurance. So you run fast for speed and repeat it many times for endurance. Set world records at 5000m and 10000m and only runner to have won the 5000m, 10000m and marathon at the one Olympics. But legend remains due to not just what he did, but how he did it - re ...more
Rick Bayko
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The wonderful life of the greatest distance runner of all time who was also the greatest sportsman, a worldwide inspiration for friendship among all people. Not that we didn't already know that. But also the uncomfortable backdrop of the repressive time and place in which he had to live and deal with in often unsettling ways when he couldn't escape into his running. A Zatopek I'd only heard of in tidbits laid bare. An excellent book about a great man. ...more
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