Once Upon a Time in the Vest

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

V 11 N. 3 "Quicksilver: The Mercurial Emil Zatopek" by Pat Butcher, a Book Review by Paul O'Shea

When we come across books to review, we know that there is a particular skill set needed to be fair and honest and at the same time literary.  Our eyes and hearts turn to Paul O'Shea for that task.  Here is Paul's latest review on a superb book about a superb athlete:  The Mercurial Emil Zatopek by Pat Butcher.       George Brose ed.   

The Zatopek Bookshelf Is Nearly Full

 A Book Review

 By Paul O’Shea


The following conversation could have taken place recently.

 Tereza had just gotten home to their Prague apartment after her writing group session where writers exchanged memoir drafts and new project ideas. “Tomas,” she tells her husband, “we were just kicking around potential subjects, and my friend Olga said: ‘We haven’t had a new biography of Zatopek in almost five years. Tereza, you know about him, your parents saw him run, he’s a national treasure. Why don’t you write a new biography?’

 “Tomas, what do you think?”

 I have a suggestion for my mythical Tereza. We probably have gleaned all we can from books about the life of Emil Zatopek, athlete extraordinaire, national hero, icon. No need for another life story.

 In 2016, three biographers each published their account of the Czechoslovak immortal. The books and their authors: Endurance: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Emil Zatopek, by Rick Broadbent. The second: Today We Die A Little!: The Inimitable Emil Zatopek, The Greatest Olympic Runner of All Time, by Richard Askwith. The third: Quicksilver: The Mercurial Emil Zatopek, by Pat Butcher.

 Collectively, these works bring to life one of the sport’s three most famous brands—Bannister, Bolt, Zatopek.

 I reviewed Askwith’s Today We Die A Little! for Once Upon a Time in the Vest four years ago.  I found it “a well-written treasure for the distance running buff that wants to return to a largely forgotten era.” You can retrieve the review here.  Once Upon a Time in the Vest

 For those who need more Zatopek, if you haven’t read the Broadbent or Askwith entries, Pat Butcher’s Quicksilver: The Mercurial Emil Zatopek (209 pages, $34.09, Amazon) is a valuable addition, highly recommended.  You may also acquire this book by ordering directly from Pat Butcher, signed to the buyer for $24.99 (incl post) at   https://www.globerunner.org/books/

To be sure, these weren’t the only books published about him over the years. BBC Radio athletics commentator, Bob Phillips, wrote Za-to-pek! Za-to-pek! Za-to-pek! in 2002. There is a 2009 novel, titled Running, by French author Jean Echenoz. Zatopek, a graphic novel, the work of Jan Novak, appeared last year.

Butcher’s Quicksilver is richly researched, comes alive on virtually every page as the author interviews coaches, friends and competitors.  He makes extensive use of the Zatopeks’1960 co-autobiography, As Told By Dana and Emil, having had it translated from the original Czech. The book is not available in English, unfortunately.

Pat Butcher combines his own impressive track and field resume with a premier journalism career.  The Brit’s PRs, set in the nineteen-seventies are marks of 3:49.6 for 1500 meters, 4:09.4 for the mile, and 14:30.2 for five thousand meters. In 35 years Butcher’s byline has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, Financial Times, GQ, and major UK publications. He wrote and produced documentaries for the BBC.

He is also author of two other books, one about the Coe-Ovett rivalry (The Perfect Distance), the other, The Destiny of Ali Mimoun, the Algerian-born Frenchman who won the l956 Olympic marathon.  National-class runner, world-class writer.

 "If I couldn’t run like Emil Zatopek, the next best thing was to write a book about him," Butcher says about the book’s genesis. He travelled throughout the Czech Republic, talking to Zatopek’s training partner and coach. Butcher met with the Zatopeks, interviewing Emil two years before his death in 2000. He even had access to the Czech government’s secret police files about Zatopek, who was a thorn in the side of the Communists while at the same time a symbol of its athletic excellence.

Pat Butcher 
photo by nancyhoney.com

When histories of our sport are written decades down the road, Zatopek’s achievements will still be cherished.  Foremost is the 1952 Olympic Gold Medal Triple when he won the five and ten (failing only in a five thousand heat to finish first), wrapped up with the marathon victory where he defeated world record holder Jim Peters. All were Olympic records. Zatopek’s first Olympic win came four years earlier when he beat Belgium’s Gaston Reiff.    

The l952 Olympic win in Helsinki has been called the finest race ever run by Zatopek, archived by the photo of the Czech leading Alain Mimoun and Herbert Schade, while Chris Chataway lay crumpled on the track. Fourth entering the final turn, Zatopek mounted what later could be called a Billy Mills sprint to the finish, winning by less than a second. 

The Czech might have won more major medals but IAAF Worlds were still a gleam in the eye of national governing bodies and their corrupt bureaucrats. 

Sprinkled through his world-class decade of 1946 to 1956 were eighteen world records. He was the first runner under twenty-nine minutes for ten thousand meters, the first to run twenty kilometers in less than an hour. Runner’s World named him the Greatest Runner of All Time, in 2013. 

Butcher tells us about this runner who probably trained and competed excessively. Zatopek was one of the first to explore interval training. The competitions took place in the midst of a training regimen notorious for its punishment. Sessions of eighty to a hundred repeats of 400-meter runs, sometimes several in a day were routine.  In one two-year period he raced 32 five thousands and 18 ten thousands. No rest for the successful. 

In his visits to the Czech Republic Butcher spent hours with Dana, who we are charmed to learn won the javelin competition just after her husband was winning Olympic gold in ’52. That seemed ordained: Dana and Emil shared the same birthday, September 19, 1922.  “We could get married on the same day, too,” he dryly told her. The book is dedicated to Zane Branson, manager, runner and Butcher’s close friend. Branson died suddenly of a heart attack in Iten, Kenya in 2015.

The British author recounts Zatopek’s political stubbornness in the face of the Russian invasion of the country. A member of the Czech Army, he was forced to join the Party. For criticizing the Soviet Union’s l968 takeover he was deprived of his colonelcy and Party membership and exiled for four years. The four-time Olympic champion was forced into a series of menial jobs including picking up trash and working in uranium mines.

 One of the well-known anecdotes revealing Zatopek’s generosity and empathy involved another running legend, Ron Clarke. Though he was a multiple world record setter, the Australian never won Olympic gold, although he was the favorite in several of the races.

 In 1966 Zatopek invited Clarke to a meet in Prague.  Before Clarke boarded the plane for the return to Australia, the Czech handed him a small package, saying, “Not out of friendship, but because you deserve it.”  Uncertain about its contents, he waited until mid-flight to open the gift.  Inside was Zatopek’s 1952 Olympic gold medal for his win at ten thousand meters.

 Gracing Quicksilver’s cover is Zatopek’s photo, arms and hands punching an invisible opponent, the runner’s glistening, grimacing face above a vest with stop-sign numbers. We can imagine the galumping stride, the locomotive’s connecting rods driving the carriage irrevocably forward. “I wasn’t smart enough to smile and run at the same time.”

 The gregarious and cosmopolitan athlete (he spoke eight languages) might be amused today to see the number of books about him available at the library, not just because of national pride, but also because he deserved it.  


Paul O’Shea’s grandmother and mother were skilled at preparing Czech recipes that included duck and pork roasts, knedliky, strudel to finish. And the fruit dumplings, the fruit dumplings… see (The Spruce Eats) for Knedliky recipe, by Barbara Rolek


Paul O’Shea is a lifelong participant in the track and field world, as competitor, coach and journalist.  After retirement from a career in corporate communications, he coached a girls’ cross country team and was a long-time contributor to Cross Country Journal. He now writes for Once Upon a Time in the Vest from his home in northern Virginia, and can be reached at Poshea17@aol.com.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

V 11 N. 2 Walter Buddy Davis 1952 Olympic High Jump Champ R.I.P.


Over the bar at Helsinki

Walt 'Buddy' Davis passed away on November 19, 2020 in Beaumont, Texas.  The former Texas A&M athlete starred in track and basketball as an Aggie.  In his childhood he had been stricken with polio and wore a leg brace for three years.  He did leg strengthening exercises and eventually became an outstanding athlete.  At 6' 6" he had the talent to move on to the NBA after his track career. He played for the Philadelphia Warriors and the St. Louis Hawks winning two NBA championships.  

Just for fun, can you name another Aggie who played both those sports in college and was an Olympic gold medalist.  See answer at bottom of this post.

In 1953 before Walt Davis became a pro basketball player he made one of his last appearances at the national level in Dayton when the national AAU championships were held there.  I was able to acquire the use of several photos courtesy of the Wright State University-Dayton Daily News archives housed at that library.  Here they are.  

Walt Davis being presented the 'Courage Award' by 
Ed Pollock of the Philadelphia Sports Writers Assn.
in 1954.  The other recipient that year was another Olympic
Champion Babe Didrikson Zaharias who had been
battling cancer as a then pro golfer.  She was unable to attend.

photo by Homer Hack Dayton Daily News
Wright State University Archives

photo by Homer Hack Dayton Daily News
Wright State University Archives

Olympic Jump youtube   Link

In those days the NBA was small peanuts, and I may have actually seen Davis play in Dayton, Ohio as a ten year old.  One night my parents and most Dayton basketball fans filled the old U. of Dayton arena to watch the Harlem Globetrotters.   There was an NBA game that served as a warmup  before the Globetrotters game.  Goose Tatum and Marquis Haynes were the men of the hour for the Trotters.   I do remember former Ohio State star Neal Johnston for the Warriors, but not Davis that night.  

Walter Buddy Davis , Obituary    This is worth a look, much better than your average obituary.  ed. 

Several have noted in this obit that Walt is credited with being the first over 7 feet, much to the chagrin of anyone who knows that Charley Dumas was that man.

He apparently Davis jumped 7' several times in 'exhibitions'.  He worked for a car dealership and they would have sales promotions.  He would appear there and do a little high jumping.  I'm sure there weren't any certified officials there measuring and so no official credit.

And by the way, that other Aggie to earn a gold in track and play basketball at College Station was  Randy Matson.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

V 11 N. 1 Clem Eischen Olympian 1948 1500 Meters R.I.P.


Clem Eischen  (B. Dec. 24, 1926 - D.  Dec. 7, 2020)  age 93

Clem Eischen born in Nebraska in the 1920's and moved with his family to Vancouver, Washington, where he went out for track his junior year in 1944.   He thought he wanted to run the 880, but the spot was already taken according to the coach who wasn't all that welcoming to the newcomer.  So Clem moved up to the mile, both he and the half miler won state titles that year, and Clem won again his senior year.  That bought him a ticket to Washington State in Pullman where he was an All American in the mile though never an NCAA champ finishing 2nd in the 880 in 1951 and 5th in the mile in 1946 and 6th in 1948.  He surprised  a lot of people with his third place finish in the 1500 at the Olympic trials thus earning the trip to London.  His personal bests were  880 1:51.3 (1951), 1500-3:52.5 (1948), Mile 4:13.5 (1948) -

In London he was eliminated in the qualifying heat when a British runner cut in front of him causing him to lose his footing and clipping the offending runner's heel.  That kept him out of the final.  

But where Clem really made his mark in sport was as a physical therapist.  After six years of teaching high school in Washington, he went to Stanford and got a graduate degree in physical therapy and opened his first clinic in Vancouver.  The field was not recognized as a valid treatment by the medical profession at that time but Clem was noted for lobbying for better recognition of physical therapy and winning that effort.  He eventually had six clinics at his retirement, and they are now run by his son and grandson.

The following article is from a website called PTPUBNIGHT that tells about Clem's work to get recognition for the profession so that people on Medicare could get physical therapy.

Clem Eischen was a physical therapist for all of four years when he stood up during the 1966 national convention of the Private Practice Section (PPS) in L.A. to express frustration about how physical therapists were “shut out” of Medicare, the national program that had been established just the year before.

The problem: physical therapy wasn’t included as a reimbursable medical service in this new health care program.

Clem Eichen PT Pub Night on the Hill

Clem Eischen (second from right) poses with Keith Glasser, private practice attorney Diana Godwin, and PT Pub Night founder Tannus Quatre (far right) during a 2014 advocacy trip to Capitol Hill.

“I was pretty harsh,” Clem recalled. The nation’s PT advocates had been “asleep at the wheel,” he announced that day, which was forcing him to turn away elderly patients at his Northwest practice.

“The little old ladies were kind of the thing that set me off,” said Clem, now 88 and still a licensed physical therapist. “When an old lady would come in the office and I’d say, ‘I can’t treat you,’ they could really make you feel bad. They don’t say anything, but there’s that look on their faces.”

Clem’s impromptu speech, and the criticism it contained, undoubtedly struck a chord in the room. The PPS quickly moved to make him the chairman of its legislative committee, an assignment that came with two committee members, no budget and two goals: lobby Congress to change Medicare to include physical therapy in private practice, and ensure this change is funded.

By 1972, Clem had accomplished both of these goals.

“It can’t be overstated how incredibly important Clem’s legacy is to both the physical therapy profession and the millions we serve across the country,” said Tannus Quatre, PT Pub Night founder, a licensed physical therapist, and recent physical therapy advocate through the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). “I met Clem during a trip to Washington D.C. last year, and it was an honor to work by his side on Capitol Hill, this time fighting to repeal the sustainable growth rate and therapy cap.”

Clem Eischen PT Advocacy

Clem Eischen, member of the 1948 U.S. Olympic team.

Clem was no stranger to performing under pressure, though before he was practicing physical therapy and meeting members of Congress in D.C., his stage had typically been a cinder track. An All-American track star at Washington State University, Clem earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team and competed in the 1,500-meter run in the 1948 Olympic Games in London.

Following a brief career as both an athlete and coach, Clem received his graduate degree in physical therapy from Stanford in 1962. The very next year, he started his own private practice, SportsCare Physical Therapy, leading to his involvement in the PPS and its legislative committee.

Once appointed as its chairman, Clem said he quickly got to work, creating valuable relationships over time with members of Congress as well as advocates from other groups such as the Oregon Medical Political Action Committee (OMPAC) and the American Medical Association.

Rep. Al Ullman, the U.S. Representative from Oregon’s 2nd District at the time, proved to be his most valuable advocate. When Ullman became chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, he assured Clem that expanding Medicare to include physical therapy was on his agenda.

“He said, ‘I know what you want. I’ll stand tall for you in committee,’” Clem recalled. “And he did. He took care of it.”

In 1972, Medicare expanded to not only include physical therapy, but speech and occupational therapy, as well. It was also that year when Clem helped form PT-PAC, which later became the political outreach arm of the APTA.

Since this milestone legislative victory, Clem has continued to serve as a long-time physical therapy and private practice advocate. He also enjoys encouraging others to serve in a similar capacity, citing his own experiences as an example of how passion, persistence and advocacy can change the world we live in.

“I tell people that you live and die by the legislation in Washington D.C..” he said. “Legislators can hurt you or they can help you, but you’d better talk for yourself. If you don’t, there are plenty of voices that will speak on your behalf, and it won’t always be good.”

Vancouver's Clem Eischen Was Master of the Mile, The Columbian May 12, 2020

V 11 N. 3 "Quicksilver: The Mercurial Emil Zatopek" by Pat Butcher, a Book Review by Paul O'Shea

When we come across books to review, we know that there is a particular skill set needed to be fair and honest and at the same time literary...