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.

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.

HOW EMIL ZÁTOPEK HELPED CREATE THE PRAGUE INTERNATIONAL MARATHON

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 International Marathon, says a lot.

It means runners from a multitude of continents have flocked to the Czech Republic to meet the standard.

Alexander Mutiso Munyao (London Marathon Events)

“The Prague International Marathon is a very prestigious event for both the IOC and World Athletics,” Capalbo says.

“There are so many people running to get the standard. The Olympics is the pinnacle of sport and it’s a celebration.”

Capalbo is also keen to stress of the importance of the masses. He states that running is much more than just one individual and his mission is to create sports events to make “people happy and healthy”, plus making the sport “more watchable for the general public”.

Prague Marathon and Half (RunCzech)

“This is not a normal job and running is not a normal sport,” he adds. “It’s a little bit specific. We wanted to give the perception that the winners of running are those who finish the race, not just those first across the line. The marathon is a fantastic advertisement for the city and it’s great for people’s mental health.

“We are a small country in the Czech Republic and many people come from abroad to the marathon. It’s a great income for Prague. This generates happiness and love for an event which is a tradition for us.”

There will also be the added element of “Battle of the Teams”. Successfully introduced last year, the idea is that both masses and elites are split into teams. It means that the placing of every runner matters.

This year, there will be four teams: Team Mattoni, Team Prague Airport, Team Turkish Airlines and Team Volkswagen.

“There is still the elephant in the room,” Capalbo says. “The masses don’t know the name of the winners. It’s why we’ve done Battle of the Teams so the people taking part in the marathon can look at the names of the elite athletes.

“We want to get the people close to the elite athletes. They also need European legends like Paula Radcliffe, Sebastian Coe and Rosa Mota to look up to. When you go to watch a football match you go crazy for your team and that’s what I need to see in running.”

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