Olympic History Tidbits: The Marriage of Two Great Athletes
If you are envious of great athletes, you’ll be interested in the true story of the marriage of two great Olympic athletes. The dominant athlete of the 1968 Olympics was Vera Caslavska of Czechoslovakia who won 4 gold and two silver medal in gymnastics. Right after the closing Olympic ceremony in 1968, she married Joseph Odlizil, the 1964 Olympic silver medalist from Czechoslovakia in the 1500 meters. Soon afterwards, they had a child.
Thirty years later, on January 24, 1997, President Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia granted a pardon to Martin Odlozil, the child of this marriage of two of the greatest Olympic athletes. The son of this marriage had been sentenced to four years in prison for killing his father. Four-time Olympic gold medalist Emil Zatopek, and arguably the greatest distance runner ever, signed a petition for the release of Martin Odlozil. Emil Zatopek spent a part of his life cleaning the streets of Prague for criticizing the Soviet Union for invading Czechoslovakia.
At the time of the pardon of Martin Odlizil, his mother, the greatest Olympic gymnast Vera Caslavska, was hospitalized at the Bohnice Psychiatric Center having been destroyed emotionally by her tragic life. The father is killed by his son born from a marriage of two great Olympic athletes, Caslavska began her fabulous athletic career as a figure skater, but at the age of 12 turned to gymnastics and placed first overall in gymnastics at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, also taking gold medals in the beam and the vault. In the 1965 and 1967 world championships she won every gymnastic event. She closed her career at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, winning gold medals in the combined exercises and the uneven bars, the floor exercise, and the vault. She also won a silver medal in the balance beam and shared a team silver.
It would seem that Caslavska would retire in glory, but there were hard times for everyone in Czechoslovakia. The Russians seized Czechoslovakia and made it a puppet state. But Vera Caslavska, the great Olympic athlete, and strong-willed person remained loyal to her native country. Prior to her spectacular performance at the 1968 Olympics, she signed Ludvik Vaculik’s controversial manifesto, “Two Thousand Words.” Part of the Prague Spring, the work critcized the puppet Czechoslovak government. In August, Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia to restore order. Prominent citizens who had spoken out, including Vera Caslavska, were subject to imprisonment. In fear of such a fate, Caslavska left the national team to hide in the small town of Sumperk.
As the Mexico City Games approached she was able to rejoin her teammates by special permission of the Czech government. When she arrived home, she learned that her criticism of the Soviet Union would not go unpunished. She could not find a job, she had two children and her marriage fell apart. Her husband remained loyal to the Russian invaders, and married another woman. Vera Caslavska did not remarry, choosing to take care of her two children from her marriage to the famous Czech distance runner.
On January 3, 1970 great Olympic champion and political outcast, Vera Caslavska applied for a job with the Czechoslovakian national gymnastics team. She was told by authorities, “Come back next year, this is not a suitable time.” For five consecutive years, on every January 3, she appeared in the same office, asking for the same job and was told that she would get a job only if she claimed to never have signed the manifesto against Russia. Caslavska refused. During a 1984 visit, Olympic president Juan Antonio Samaranch was told he could not see Caslavska because she was experiencing “family problems.” A year later Samaranch returned and insisted on seeing Vera to present her with the Olympic Order. The authorities relented, signaling Caslavska’s return to public life. Her emotional health declined making service and travel difficult, but she lived with her two children, Martin and Radka, in Prague.