Athletics News

How Emil Zátopek helped create the Prague International Marathon

How Emil Zátopek helped create the Prague International Marathon

Founder of Prague International Marathon Carlo Capalbo opens up about meeting in 1995 that changed everything

This weekend’s Prague International Marathon will be the 29th edition of the event and, courtesy of organisers RunCzech, has become one of Europe’s fastest-growing road races.

It was founded back in 1995 by Carlo Capalbo, alongside 1988 Olympic men’s marathon champion Gelindo Bordin and quadruple Olympic gold medallist Emil Zátopek.

Zátopek, nicknamed the “Czech Locomotive”, is one of the country’s greatest ever athletes. He is best known for being the only person in history to claim three Olympic gold medals over the 5000m, 10,000m and the marathon in the same Games, at Helsinki 1952.

Incredibly, Zátopek’s gold in the marathon came in his first ever race over 26.2 miles.

The Czech athlete was also the first runner in history to go sub-29 minutes in the 10,000m and went undefeated in his first 38 races over the distance from 1948 through to 1954.

Emil Zátopek at Helsinki 1952 (Getty)

Zátopek’s legacy isn’t just defined by his athletics achievements though. The 8000-plus runners that will take to the streets on Sunday (May 5) for the Prague International Marathon – starting and ending around the Old Town Square – can thank Zátopek, Capalbo and Bordin for their vision back in 1995.

“You know, nearly 30 years ago I had this simple and beautiful dream,” Capalbo tells AW. “A friend of mine [Bordin] said to me that we should organise a marathon. So we went to see Mr Zátopek. That was the start of everything.

“When we went and met Mr Zátopek, we started off with a coffee and bábovka. At the end we tasted some lovely brandy that Mr Zátopek had. After that, we’d devised the marathon but we needed to work out where the people would run.

“So Mr Zátopek decided to draw the course for the Prague International Marathon on a napkin. The rest is history.”

Carlo Capalbo (RunCzech)

The elite winners in the inaugural year of the event were Ethiopian Turbo Tummo (2:12:44) and Ukrainian Svetlana Tkach (2:38:33).

Since then, the course records have plummeted and are currently held by Alexander Mutiso (2:05:09 – 2023) and Lonah Salpeter (2:19:46 – 2019), although sadly Zátopek did not live to see the recent races as he died in 2000 aged 78.

Prague is a historically quick meet and the fact that the IOC have extended the qualification period for the Olympic marathon past the April 30 date, to include the Prague…

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