As Czech athletes go, Emil Zátopek (1922-2000), is certainly among the most legendary. Using what were some very revolutionary training methods for the day, he dominated distance running events from the late 1940s to the early 1950s and became a household name at home and abroad for many more years beyond his competitive ones.
Between the 1948 Olympics in London and the 1952 Olympics in Helsiniki, Zátopek collected a total of four gold medals and one silver. His record as being the only athlete to win gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 metre races as well as the marathon in a single Olympics, which he set in Helsinki, still stands today.
Aside of his gold and silver Olympic medals, he was also awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship.
Outside of his Olympic achievments, He won three gold and one bronze medal between the 1950 and 1954 European Athletics Championships which were held in Brussels, Belgium and Bern, Switzerland respectively.
Despite is accomplishments and accolades, life after sporting glory was not clear sailing for Emil and his wife, Dana.
Emil was very much in demand to make appearances at international athletics events throught the 1950s and 1960s. The Communist government of the former Czechoslovakia exptected that he would put forth a good face for the regime through such appearances; as Emil was also an army officer, there was a level of obligation impressed upon him to make such impressions.
Through his consistently friendly and smiling demeanour, Emil was seen as a good vehicle for the nation’s government to push forth their image of “Communism with a human face” to the rest of the world with.
However, Emil became very vocal against the government in the period leading up to the 1968 Prague Spring protests. He became very popular with the public as a famous voice to follow against the system.
Emil’s role as a rallying point was short lived and the public lost much faith in him as he seemed to do a quick about face in his views. No doubt his quick change of stance came from threats brought against him by both the government and the Czechoslovak secret police, the StB.
His apparent change of heart tarnished his public image for a long time. He was relieved of his army post and spent some time in meanial labour work as punishment for speaking out against the Communist government. For a period of his life, he was swept under the carpet and forgotten at home. However, people still spoke highly of him abroad.
With the fall of Socialism in 1989, Emil was “rehabilitated” by then president, Václav Havel, and some of the old tarnish that had plague Emil’s name at home through the 1970s and 1980s came off before his death in 2000.
Getting Into the Book
“Today We Die a Little” was written by British journalist and running enthusiast, Richard Askwith, and published in 2016. The book takes the reader through the whole of Emil’s life and gives a very thorough picture of not only the various stages of the man’s life, but also much about his charismatic personality and easy going demeanour.
The early part of the book focuses on Emil’s early life and Olympic glory. It feels a bit repetative in tone, but it works well to bring across the relentlessness of the training regime that Emil forced upon himself and his refusal to take excuses from himself in the pusuit of bettering his performance. Running trully was everything to him in that time period.
This section also shows the reader the very high value that Emil placed on sportsmanship and friendship. His easy going and friendly personality along with his willingness to encourage his competitors won him many life long friends and admirers in international circles.
Though he retired from competition in 1957, his sense of sportsmanship continued. He is quite famous for his act of gifting one of the gold medals he won in Helsinki in 1952 to Australian distance runner, Ron Clarke, in 1966. Clarke was in Prague for a race and was a guest of the Zátopeks. Despite his own hard training and dedication, a gold medal eluded Clarke in the 10,000 metre race at the 1964 games in Tokyo. Upon leaving Prague, Emil presented him with his own 10,000 metre gold medal from Helsinki and wrote “Because you deserve it” on the inside of the box that contained it.
The second part of the book follows the Zatopeks through the 60s, 70s and 80s. This period was marked a turn in the fortunes of the couple at home in both the eyes of the state and public.
Emil tended to speak his mind rather more than was safe given his position as a celebrity and as a member of the army. While the state and StB were able to scare Emil into keeping his tongue in check and getting him to seemingly switch sides to their favour and lose face in the public eye, it really was a case of him simply going through the motions. He was still quite against the Communist system and this came out when he was drunk. After being seen drunk and singing anti Communist songs, Emil was stripped of his army position and sentenced to hard labour in a remote part of the country.
This was a low point in Emil’s life as he was out of favour with the public and it was relatively easy for the state to sweep him under the carpet at home.
However, the state had to be a good deal more careful with Emil due to his still high status at the international level. With people from outside the country requesting his presence at athletic events and asking of his well being, the state could not overtly abuse him as they might other disidents and had to relent to allowing him to make appearances outside the country so he could be seen to be well.
Despite many attempts by foreign journalists to engage Emil in conversations about politics in such situations, he thoroughly avoided the subject.
The book finishes with Emil’s reputation and national interest in him being restored in the post Communist Czechoslovakia and Czech Republic.
An Author’s Accomplishment
Though I am not a big reader of biographies, I very much enjoyed this book and the well rounded picture it gives of Emil Zátopek.
Mr. Askwith has described this book as his most abitious to date and the extensive reference section at the back of the book bears out his dedication to making sure he had his facts right. Through extensive exploration of historical archives, personal diaries and interviews with Dana and other people who knew Emil best, the author has given us a tremendous portrait of his hero that is down to earth and largely without hyperbole which must have been tempting to include while compiling such a story.
Ultimately, Mr. Askwith has painted for us a picture of Emil Zátopek which shows the reader a gregarious and generous man who placed sportsmanship and friendship most highly among his personal values.
We also are shown a man of strong physical and psychological fortitude who pushed himself for self improvement off the race track as well as on it. Emil was a self taught polyglot who taught himself six languages through the course of his life.
This book is a very satisfying read even if biographies are not to your interests and I thank Mr. Askwith for going to the work of giving us this book.
These links will take you to more information about the book and author at the publisher’s and author’s websites respectively.
After a month of having the reader surveys open for both my blogs, I have to say the amount of feedback was rather less than I hoped for. However, there was enough to indicate where the blogs are succeeding.
Looking at Beyond Prague question by question:
1: How well does Beyond Prague meet your needs?
The responses to this question all fell into the “Very well” and “Extremely well” brackets with the majority in “Very well”
2: How easy was it to find what you were looking for on Beyond Prague?
Responses were split between “Very easy” and “Extremely easy” with a majority in “Very easy”
3: Did it take you more or less time than you expected to find what you were looking for on Beyond Prague?
Responses fell into “About what I expected” and “A little less time” with a majority going to the latter category.
4: How visually appealing is Beyond Prague?
This was a split between “Extremely appealing” and “Very appealing” with the latter getting the majority of votes.
5: How easy is it to understand the information on Beyond Prague?
This was a tie between “Very easy” and “Extremely easy”.
6: How much do you trust the information on Beyond Prague?
Responses were split between “A lot” and “A great deal” With the majority going to “A lot”.
7: How likely is it that you would recommend Beyond Prague to a friend or colleague?
Half of respondents said they would recommend Beyond Prague while smaller percentages were passive or said they would not recommend it.
8: Do you have any other comments about how we can improve our website?
Not much was said in this area, but here’s a couple of comments:
“I appreciate the non-biased feel of the writing in the articles.”
This is good to hear as it’s exactly what I aim for when writing my blog.
“The website gives enough information to make me want to visit but not so much that I feel I’ve learned so much as to make visiting redundant.”
This is also good to hear as I aim to give readers enough information to know generally what to expect of a place, but not to give spoilers of it.
9: How did you learn about Beyond Prague?
Half of respondents found the blog via internet searches.
Smaller numbers found it via the WordPress reader function or from friends and colleagues.
While the results of the surveys certainly aren’t scientific, I’m happy to have them.
Remembrance Day is upon us once again and, thanks to a couple of conversations this week, I find myself with a bit more to reflect on this year than simply being thankful to veterans.
Bear with me, I’ll try not to be too long winded or self-indulgent:
This week someone thanked me for wearing a poppy. I don’t think anyone has ever thanked me for that before now.
An elderly lady started chatting to me at a tram stop on Wednesday morning, pointed to my poppy a couple of times and thanked me for wearing one and lamented that younger generations of Czechs hardly know a thing about the contributions Czechs made in the Second World War.
As soon as I started replying, she caught my foreign accent (and certainly Czech grammar errors) and asked where I was from and so forth. In the space of four tram stops (ten minutes or so) she told me how her father had been a soldier in the exiled Czechoslovak army under British command during the war.
She also asked where I had bought my poppy as she’d never seen them for sale here; her eyes lit up when I told her it was a shop just down the street from where we had got off the tram.
I’m pretty sure she got one for herself before the day was finished.
Later on Wednesday, I related the above conversation on my Facebook page and one of my friends asked about how acceptable it would be for her to acknowledge on the day those of her ancestors who fought under German and Austrian flags.
It’s something I’d not really thought about until she asked, but I couldn’t see a reason for her not to so long as those ancestors had simply been regular military and not in the SS or similar branch.
Whenever I have passed by the German war graves section of the central cemetery in Brno, there have always been a few graves with tributes placed by them. In light of that, someone is clearly remembering them and not afraid to show it.
The latter conversation made me think about what level of obligation, if any, younger generations should be made to feel when it comes to the guilt and grudges between previous generations.
There is, of course, the well known proverb of those who forget the past being doomed to repeat it; but is it required for younger generations to be made to feel some need to bear an older generation’s guilt or hold their grudges in order to be sure the past is not forgotten? Surely such attitudes only serve to ensure that not only is history not forgotten, but that the chances of it being repeated are increased.
That question transcends the Second World War and can be extended to other events that created much bloodshed and bitterness between people, especially those events which we are separated from by not only many years but also several generations.
When those of the generations most directly involved in the actions and conflicts leave us, but could in their lifetimes find it in themselves to reconcile and even become friends, the excuses for later generations to feel guilt or hold grudges on the part of previous ones seem very frail and few indeed.
To put that into more material terms:
If you came into the possession of a family heirloom that you knew represented a darker chapter of your family or peoples’ history that happened three or four generations or more prior, should you personally feel any shame for having it?
You can’t deny your connection to the item even if you personally didn’t have a hand in creating it. However, is anyone else really in a place to tell you that it is irrelevant precisely who created it and that you personally should be ashamed of it as if you had been its creator and hide it away somewhere even though those who created it are long gone from the world?
When you’ve been able to reconcile a dark corner of your family’s or peoples’ past to its rightful place in the past, how much of an obligation should you feel to bear the previous generations’ guilt in the face of someone who has opted to hold the previous generations’ grudge?
When I read about men who fought each other in wars and later became friends sometime after hostilities had ceased, I can’t help but think we should be honouring that ability in them just as much as we honour the sacrifice of those who didn’t survive the conflict.
Some of you may have noticed a new image in the sidebar alongside the links to various expat interviews I’ve given. The new image represents this blog being chosen as the best blog about the Czech Republic in 2017 by a group called Money Transfer Comparison.
Who is Money Transfer Comparison and why would they grant my blog an award? I asked myself exactly those questions. In an email thanking them for the award, I asked them how they had become aware of Beyond Prague and what criteria they used to determine it worthy of the award. They also told me a bit about themselves.
Money Transfer Comparison is an organisation that reviews, compares and rates international money transfer companies and helping expats move money is part of their business.
Here’s an exerpt from their reply to my email:
“Thank you for your message!
It’s great to see you have noticed our awards, we were just planning on a massive PR / outreach campaign to get the news out.
I appreciate your message and am very glad to hear you want to incorporate the badge in your site.
MoneyTransferComparison boasts 30,000 visitors a month and helps expats move more than $150m a year!
How did we discover your blog? In fact our writers checked out the competition and decided they think you are the best in this the category. What we expect of a blog is to be: – Comprehensive – Easy to navigate – Provides good advice (actionable one that is) – Written in an interesting fashion
Your blog definitely addresses all of the above.”
To put the award into some context, the group compiled a list of expat blogs from 40 different countries around the world. As I know that there are several other good expat blogs about the Czech lands out there, I’m very pleased that they chose Beyond Prague for the award.
The timing of the award is also quite good as most of you know, from my recent post, that Beyond Prague will be celebrating its fifth birthday in the very near future.
Here’s a link to Money Transfer Comparison’s website if you’d like to know more about them and their activities:
I started Beyond Prague in November of 2012. That means November of 2017 will mark a full five years of this blog’s existence.
When I started blogging, at the urging of a friend, I had no idea that I would enjoy it as much as I do or that anyone would enjoy what I choose to blog about as much as it seems they do.
I most certainly didn’t imagine myself still blogging after five years.
Staying True to the Goal
Reflecting on five years of this blog and the current content of it, I can happily say that I have largely stayed true to my goal for it to be a general resource for those planning to travel to the Czech lands for either tourism or the expat life.
In the course of creating articles for places of interest that visitors could see if they ventured outside the capital city, I have also experimented with additional features to keep things fresh. Happily, going by the blog stats page, most of what I’ve added as new features has been well received by the readership.
On the matter of the information available through the stats page, let’s take a look at some Beyond Prague trivia (all figures current as of October 2017):
Number of followers: 219
Top 5 visited posts:
Trdelník – The Czech Treat that Isn’t (Total views: 2,797)
Yesterday, we took a visit to Kutná Hora, a well known historical town in the central part of the country. The city is typically one of the places visitors to the Czech Republic know about before they even arrive in the country.
Our visit yesterday gave us some beautiful autumn weather to reacquaint ourselves with the city and gave me the opportunity to revisit and refresh my existing articles about the city’s attractions.
My main article on Kutná Hora was given extensive text revisions and expansion as well as a complete refreshment of the photographs:
Since 1946, Zetor tractors have represented the Czech lands on the global agricultural market. Over the years, the company’s tractors have been exported to over 130 countries and were produced under license in nine countries from 1964 into the 1990s.
Starting as a division of the manufacturing giant, Zbrojovka Brno, Zetor eventually became a company in its own right in 1976. Right from the start, Zetor tractors were revolutionary in their design and quickly became recognised worldwide for that.
Zetor was the first tractor manufacturer to take driver comfort and safety into account, theirs were the world’s first tractors to incorporate a roll cage and engine noise dampening features into the design of the driver’s cabin as well as ergonomic and practical arrangement of vehicle controls and instrument guages in easily visible places.
They also pioneered the concept of parts unification in tractor design. This meant that a series of tractor models could be designed with a high amount of components common between them, thus simplifying both construction and maintenance processes.
Through radical restructuring and a shift from state to private ownership in the early 1990s, Zetor was bought out of bankruptcy in the early 2000s to still be with us today and have bright plans for the future.
That said, let’s spend some time with this legendary Czech product:
Child of Zbrojovka
The genesis of Zetor is to be found in Zbrojovka Brno, a manufacturing company that can trace it’s own lineage to the 1800s and the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s artillery workshops.
Zbrojovka Brno came into existence as a state owned firearms factory in 1918 as the newly established First Republic of Czechoslovakia rose as an independent nation in the wake of the First World War. The factory quickly established itself as a manufacturing giant, producing a wide range products for both military and civilian markets
During the First Republic period, Czechoslovakia’s agriculture sector was served by tractors of both domestic and imported origin. Praga, Škoda, Svoboda and Wikov were the major domestic tractor producers while imported tractors were primarily of American origin with products from US Fordson, International Harvester and John Deere being predominant.
In the same period, Zbrojovka Brno added cars to their growing list of products. As history would show, involving themselves in car design and manufacture would give them valuable experience to draw upon when they started tractor manufacture after the Second World War.
World War Two changed manufacturing prioritites and agricultural equipment became a decidedly low priority for nations involved in the conflict. After the war was finished, around 2,000 tractors were imported to Czechoslovakia through the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) while factories in the country got back on their feet after German occupation.
While the pre-war domestic tractor producers planned to resume the tractor business in the post-war period, Škoda was the only one who managed to do so. It was in this vacuum that Zbrojovka Brno entered the tractor business.
The company established the tractor arm of their business in 1945 and staffed it with many former members of their inter-war automobile operations. The newly formed division was placed under the leadership of František Musil, an automobile and aircraft engine designer who had joined the company in 1935.
The catalyst for Zbrojovka Brno entering the tractor business was a June, 1945 state requisition for domestic companies to design an economical, lightweight tractor suitable for mass production within a time limit of only six months. By November of that year, musil and his team had succeeded in producing their prototype tractor. Škoda was the only other manufacturer to come forth with a prototype in response to the requisition. After a brief competition of prototypes, the Zbrojovka design was declared the winner. The victorious prototype would form the basis of the company’s first tractor, the model 25.
Spring of 1946 saw the company’s tractor division officially named Zetor and trademark protection extended to it. In the same period, the first model 25 tractors began to roll of the assembly lines. The model 25 would see a production run of 16 years with a total of 158,570 of the type being made and 97,000 of those going to export customers. Such figures place the model 25 amongst the most produced European tractor types.
Before the 1940s were out, Zetor had begun to distinguish themselves as one of the first tractor makers in the world to take operator comfort and safety into consideration. Succesive versions of the model 25 featured a padded driver seat with spring support and a small back rest incorporated into the design. The model 25 also moved away from the traditional cartridge starting system to an electrical starter for the engine. Thought was also given to the visibility and layout of the instruments and guages on the dashboard.
Another Zetor development of the 1940s was the model 30 of 1948. The model 30 was significant in tractor development by being one of the world’s first tractors to feature a fuel injected diesel engine, a feature which reduced fuel consumption considerably.
The company saw the 1940s out by celebrating the construction of their 10,000th tractor in February of 1949.
On an Open Field
Entering the 1950s, Zetor had very little to compete with at home except their own success. Indeed, they were having some problems satisfying both domestic and export markets for their products at the begining of the decade.
Škoda had remained, to a small degree, in the tractor business until the Communist government that had taken over the country in 1948 dictated that Zetor would be the country’s only tractor producer. Škoda had faded from the tractor business by the mid 1950s and Zetor had the home market to themselves from then on.
1952 saw Zetor moved from the main Zbrojovka Brno factory to a factory site in the Líšeň suburb on the east side of Brno. Here, they would not need to compete for factory floorspace with other Zbrojovka products and could conduct their own research and development on site. The Líšeň location continues to serve as Zetor headquarters today.
1955 saw the debut of the Super 35, a model that brought with it an improved suspension system and a heating system in the driver’s cabin for increased operator comfort.
In 1960, the Super 35 was extensively modernised and renamed the Super 50.
A Revolution on the Farm
Zetor introduced a true watershed event to tractor production in the late 1950s with the introduction of their parts unification concept.
Under the parts unification concept, entire ranges of tractors could be created using a system of common parts. This concept captured the manufacturing world’s attention as it meant significant savings in materials, money and time with regards to production and maintenance. It also meant that tractor dealers did not have to give valuable shelf space to components unique to a single model of tractor.
From 1958 into the late 1990s, Zetor created three distinct ranges of tractors under the parts unification system: UR1, UR2 and UR3. Each range featured baseline models and specialised versions.
UR1: The First Unified Range
The UR1 range proved to be a solid start for Zetor’s new system.
While Zetor had designed a completely new transmission for their new range, they had retained the fuel injected diesel engines and associated starting systems. The engines made Zetor tractors very popular on the export market as they could be started and operated reliably in a very wide range of climatic conditions around the world.
Zetor used the UR1 range to introduce their Zetormatic weight transfer system. This system shifted part of the weight of the field implement being pulled to the tractor’s rear axle so it could be used for more traction in the soil.
Inside the UR1 family, there were a number of specialised variants including a half-track version for working in forested areas, a fully tracked version for work on the steep slopes of vineyards as well as a narrower model for working between trees in fruit orchards.
Through the bulk of the 1960s, the UR1 range was very well recieved at home and abroad. However, with a power range covering from 25 to 60 horsepower, it was not powerful or robust enough for the larger farm operations of Central Europe.
While the UR2 range debuted in 1968, the UR1 family has been revisited and modernised several times over the years.
UR2: Redefining the Tractor
The UR2 range, collectively nicknamed “Zetor Crystal”, consisted of around 8 versions and was produced between 1968 and 1989.
The Crystal not only answered the call for the increase in power and structural strength that the UR1 range could not provide, it was also heralded by tractor manufacturers worldwide as a true technological leap forward in tractor design from almost every aspect.
The Crystal added to Zetor’s established reputation for operator safety by being the world’s first tractor designed with a safety cage integral to the cabin in order to protect the driver in case of a rollover.
The new cabin was mounted on special noise reducing blocks. This, in conjunction with changes to engine mounting systems, made the Crystal the world’s first tractor with a noise level below 85 decibels inside the cabin.
Outside of the inovations to the cabin, the Crystal had a number of features as standard equipment that other manufacturers at the time were offering as options if they were offering them at all.
The Crystal was available with four and six cylinder engines. During the UR2 production run, turbocharged variations of the Crystal were developed. With turbocharging, the four cylinder engine could generate 100 horsepower and the six cylinder could generate 160.
UR3: Keeping it Going
Zetor introduced the third incarnation of their unified range of tractors in 1991.
The primary reasons for the introduction of the UR3 series were to replace the Crystal and to fill a gap that existed in the medium power tractor market in the early 1990s.
The UR3 family was made up of eight models ranging from 70 to to 105 horsepower.
With as widely popular as Zetor tractors had become by the mid 1960s, it made sense for the company to grant licenses for production and maintenance of their products overseas.
From 1964 into the 1990s, Zetor tractors were assembled from factory provided components or fully produced under license in Brazil, Burma, Ghana, Greece, India, Iraq, Japan, Mexico and Poland.
Between 1993 and 1996, Zetor entered a contract with John Deere in America to produce a number of tractors under the American company’s name and badging for markets in Latin and South America. The tractors were Zetor designs though finished in the well known John Deere green and yellow paint and assembled in John Deere’s manufacturing facilities in Mexico. These tractors were marketed by John Deere as the 2000 series.
Under the terms of the sort lived contract with John Deere, Zetor was barred from being active in Latin and South American markets. However, in 1997, Zetor moved on those markets through a deal with Brazilian vehicle manufacturer, Agrale. Zetor continues to provide Agrale with components to produce their tractors for the Brazilian market today.
The 1990s and the New Millenium
As it was with many Czech companies, the early post Socialist period was a tumultuous time in which many legendary firms either adapted well to or died in bankruptcy.
Zetor spent the 1990s going through a number of changes after being privatised in 1993.
In the 1990s, the company relaunched both the UR1 and UR3 ranges in much modernised forms.
The turn of the millenium was a particularly rocky period for the company that saw it change ownership a few times, enter a revitalisation program and go through a bankruptcy before being purchased in 2002 by its current owners.
Under the current ownership, Zetor has flourished and regained its strength as a company. Today, the company manufactures several models of tractor under the Forterra, Major and Proxima names. In 2015, Zetor brought the name “Crystal” back to the tractor world in the form of a fully modern design.
Zetor marked their 70th anniversary in 2016. Part of marking that milestone was to develop a new look for future Zetor products. To this end, they partnered with world famous Italian car design firm Pininfarina.
Pininfarina created a new design concept which was unveiled to the world as a full scale mock up in 2015 at the Agritechnica exhibition in Hannover, Germany.
Zetor plans to apply Pininfarina design concepts to all their future models and updates to existing models.
With classic Italian car firms such as Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati on their client list, Pininfarina is certain to bring a whole new level of excitement to the world of agriculture through their partnership with Zetor.
If you like tractors and happen to be passing through Brno, Zetor Gallery really should be on your itinerary.
This small museum was established by Zetor at their Brno headquarters in 2013 and is a fantastic opportunity to get up close to a number of historical and contemporary Zetor models. The museum has a permanent collection of its own plus a rotating selection of historical Zetor tractors loaned by private collectors.
Zetor gallery is quite interactive and visitors are encouraged to examine many of the tractors at close quarters and even sit in them.
The following links will give you more information about much of what’s been covered in this blog entry: