Čáslavská at the 1968 Olympic Games
May 3 1942
August 30 2016 (age 74)
Věra Čáslavská (Czech pronunciation: [ˈvjɛra ˈtʃaːslafskaː]; born 3 May 1942) is a Czech gymnast. Blonde, cheerful and possessing impressive stage presence, she was generally popular with the public and won a total of 22 international titles, including seven Olympic gold medals, all in individual events (an all-time record among female Olympians). Čáslavská is the most decorated Czech gymnast in history and is one of only two female gymnasts, along with Soviet Larisa Latynina, to win the all-around gold medal at two consecutive Olympics. She was also the 1966 all-around World Champion and the 1965 and 1967 all-around European Champion. Caslavska scored 2 perfect scores of 10 in event finals at the 1967 European Championships.
Čáslavská has the distinction of holding more Olympic individual event titles than any other gymnast, a record she has now held for over 40 years. She is also the only gymnast, male or female, ever who has won Olympic gold on every individual event (all-around, vault, uneven bars, beam, floor exercise). Between 1964 and 1968 Čáslavská was undefeated in the all-around in major international competition; to date, she is the only female gymnast ever to win every Olympic, World Championships and European Championships all-around title from one Olympiad to the next. She was the most successful athlete at the 1968 Summer Olympics. She won the 1968 Olympic All-Around title with the highest recorded score up to that time. Her win by 1.4 points remains the largest winning margin in Olympics, World, World Cup, or European Championships for women in an All-Around competition.
Between 1964-68 Caslavska won 19 individual gold medals in the major international competitions compared with 7 for all Soviet gymnasts during this time.
In addition to her gymnastics success, Čáslavská is known for her outspoken support of the Czechoslovak democratization movement and her opposition to the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, she took this protest to the world stage by quietly looking down and away while the Soviet national anthem was played during the medal ceremonies for the balance beam and floor exercise event finals. While Čáslavská's actions were applauded by her countrymen, they resulted in her becoming a persona non grata in the new regime. She was forced into retirement and for many years was denied the right to travel, work and attend sporting events.
Čáslavská's situation improved in the 1980s after the intervention of members of the International Olympic Committee, and after the fall of Communism, her status improved dramatically. During the 1990s she held several positions of honor, including a term as President of the Czech Olympic Committee. She resided in Prague until her death in 2016.
Born in Prague and originally a figure skater, Čáslavská debuted internationally at the 1958 World Championships, winning a silver medal in the team event. She first participated in the Olympic Games in 1960, also winning a silver medal with the Czechoslovakian team. By 1962, she fought for the all-around title at the World Championships, held off only by Larisa Latynina.
Čáslavská was at her peak at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, winning the overall title and taking gold medals in the balance beam and the vault, in addition to another silver medal in the team event. She would finally win a team gold at the 1966 World Championships, breaking the Soviet monopoly in that event.
She was again dominant at the 1968 Summer Olympics, winning medals in all six events. She defended her all-around title and won additional gold medals on the floor, uneven bars and vault, as well as two silvers, for the team competition and balance beam. Her use of the "Jarabe tapatío" as the music for her floor routine made her immensely popular with the Mexican crowd. Shortly after the end of the competition, Čáslavská married runner Josef Odložil, who had been a silver medalist at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. The ceremony, which took place at the Mexico City Cathedral, drew a crowd of thousands. Čáslavská was cited as being the most popular female athlete at the Olympics.
Protest at the 1968 Olympics
Čáslavská's wins at the 1968 Olympics were particularly poignant because of the political turmoil in Czechoslovakia. She had publicly voiced her strong opposition to Soviet-style Communism and Soviet invasion, and had signed Ludvik Vaculik's protest manifesto "Two Thousand Words" in the spring of 1968. Consequently, to avoid being arrested, she spent the weeks leading up to the Olympics hiding in the mountain town of Šumperk, and was only granted permission to travel to Mexico City at the last minute.
At the Olympics, where she once again faced Soviet opposition, Čáslavská continued to subtly voice her views. After appearing to have won the gold medal on floor outright, the judging panel curiously upgraded the preliminary scores of Soviet Larisa Petrik, and declared a tie for the gold instead. All of this occurred on the heels of another very controversial judging decision that cost Čáslavská the gold on beam, instead awarding the title to Soviet rival Natalia Kuchinskaya. Clearly disheartened and angered by the politics that favored the USSR, she protested during both medal ceremonies by quietly turning her head down and away during the playing of the Soviet national anthem.
Čáslavská's countrymen revered her for her brave demonstration on the world's biggest stage. Her federation, however, was none too pleased. For her consistent support of the Czechoslovak democratization movement (the so-called "Prague Spring") in 1968, and during the purges which followed the Soviet-led invasion in August 1968, she was deprived of the right to travel abroad and participate in public sport events both in Czechoslovakia and abroad. Čáslavská was effectively forced into retirement, and was considered a persona non grata for many years in her home country.
Czech authorities refused to publish her autobiography, and insisted that it be heavily censored when it was released in Japan. She was granted leave to work as a coach in Mexico, but reportedly only when the Mexican government threatened to cease oil exports to Czechoslovakia. In the late 1980s, following pressure from Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the International Olympic Committee, who presented her with the Olympic Order, Čáslavská was finally allowed to work as a gymnastics coach and judge in her home country.
She passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer on August 30, 2016 at age 74.
|1959||Krakow European Championships||2nd||1st|
|1960||Rome Olympic Games||2nd|
|1961||Leipzig European Championships||3rd||3rd|
|1962||Prague World Championships||2nd||2nd||1st||3rd|
|1964||Tokyo Olympic Games||2nd||1st||1st||1st|
|1965||Sofia European Championships||1st||1st||1st||1st||1st|
|1966||Dortmund World Championships||1st||1st||1st||2nd||2nd|
|1967||Amsterdam European Championships||1st||1st||1st||1st||1st|
|1968||Mexico City Olympic Games||2nd||1st||1st||1st||2nd||1st|
|Olympic All-Around Champions|
|Maria Gorokhovskaya • Larisa Latynina • Věra Čáslavská • Ludmilla Tourischeva • Nadia Comăneci • Elena Davydova • Mary Lou Retton • Elena Shushunova • Tatiana Gutsu • Lilia Podkopayeva • Andreea Răducan* Simona Amânar • Carly Patterson • Nastia Liukin • Gabby Douglas • Simone Biles|
|Olympic Vault Champions|
|Ekaterina Kalinchuk • Larisa Latynina • Margarita Nikolaeva • Věra Čáslavská • Karin Janz • Nellie Kim • Natalia Shaposhnikova • Ecaterina Szabo • Svetlana Boginskaya • Lavinia Miloşovici | Henrietta Ónodi • Simona Amânar • Elena Zamolodchikova • Monica Roşu • Hong Un-Jong • Sandra Izbaşa • Simone Biles|
|Olympic Uneven Bars Champions|
|Margit Korondi • Agnes Keleti • Polina Astakhova • Věra Čáslavská • Karin Janz • Nadia Comăneci • Maxi Gnauck • Ma Yanhong | Julianne McNamara • Daniela Silivaş • Lu Li • Svetlana Khorkina • Émilie Le Pennec • He Kexin • Aliya Mustafina|
|Olympic Balance Beam Champions|
|Nina Bocharova • Agnes Keleti • Eva Bosáková • Věra Čáslavská • Natalia Kuchinskaya • Olga Korbut • Nadia Comăneci • Ecaterina Szabo | Simona Păucă • Daniela Silivaş • Tatiana Lysenko • Shannon Miller • Liu Xuan • Cătălina Ponor • Shawn Johnson • Deng Linlin • Sanne Wevers|
|Olympic Floor Exercise Champions|
|Agnes Keleti • Agnes Keleti | Larisa Latynina • Larisa Latynina • Věra Čáslavská | Larisa Petrik • Olga Korbut • Nellie Kim • Nellie Kim | Nadia Comăneci • Ecaterina Szabo • Daniela Silivaş • Lavinia Miloşovici • Lilia Podkopayeva • Elena Zamolodchikova • Cătălina Ponor • Sandra Izbaşa • Aly Raisman • Simone Biles|
|World All-Around Champions|
|Vlasta Děkanová • Helena Rakoczy • Galina Rudko • Larisa Latynina • Věra Čáslavská • Ludmilla Tourischeva • Elena Mukhina • Nellie Kim • Olga Bicherova • Natalia Yurchenko • Elena Shushunova | Oksana Omelianchik • Aurelia Dobre • Svetlana Boginskaya • Kim Zmeskal • Shannon Miller • Lilia Podkopayeva • Svetlana Khorkina • Maria Olaru • Svetlana Khorkina • Chellsie Memmel • Vanessa Ferrari • Shawn Johnson • Bridget Sloan • Aliya Mustafina • Jordyn Wieber • Simone Biles • Morgan Hurd|
|World Vault Champions|
|Vlasta Děkanová • Helena Rakoczy • Anna Petersen • Larisa Latynina • Věra Čáslavská • Erika Zuchold • Olga Korbut • Nellie Kim • Dumitriţa Turner • Maxi Gnauck • Boriana Stoyanova • Elena Shushunova • Olesya Dudnik • Lavinia Miloşovici • Henrietta Ónodi • Elena Piskun • Gina Gogean • Simona Amânar | Lilia Podkopayeva • Gina Gogean • Simona Amânar • Elena Zamolodchikova • Svetlana Khorkina • Elena Zamolodchikova • Oksana Chusovitina • Cheng Fei • Kayla Williams • Alicia Sacramone • McKayla Maroney • Hong Un-Jong • Maria Paseka|
|European All-Around Champions|
|Larisa Latynina • Natalia Kot • Larisa Latynina • Marjana Bilic • Věra Čáslavská • Karin Janz • Tamara Lazakovich | Ludmilla Tourischeva • Ludmilla Tourischeva • Nadia Comăneci • Maxi Gnauck • Olga Bicherova • Elena Shushunova • Daniela Silivaş • Svetlana Boginskaya • Tatiana Gutsu • Gina Gogean • Lilia Podkopayeva • Svetlana Khorkina • Alina Kozich • Marine Debauve • Vanessa Ferrari • Ksenia Semenova • Anna Dementyeva • Aliya Mustafina • Giulia Steingruber • Ellie Downie|
|European Vault Champions|
|Larisa Latynina • Natalia Kot • Ute Starke • Solveig Egman • Věra Čáslavská • Karin Janz • Ludmilla Tourischeva • Ludmilla Tourischeva | Angelika Hellmann • Nellie Kim • Nadia Comăneci • Cristina Grigoraş • Olga Bicherova • Elena Shushunova • Svetlana Boginskaya • Tatiana Gutsu • Lavinia Miloşovici • Simona Amânar • Adrienn Varga • Simona Amânar • Natalia Ziganshina • Monica Roşu • Francesca Benolli • Anna Grudko • Carlotta Giovannini • Oksana Chusovitina • Ariella Kaeslin • Ekaterina Kurbatova • Sandra Izbaşa • Giulia Steingruber • Maria Paseka • Giulia Steingruber • Coline Devillard|
|European Uneven Bars Champions|
|Larisa Latynina • Polina Astakhova • Thea Belmer • Věra Čáslavská • Karin Janz • Tamara Lazakovich • Ludmilla Tourischeva • Nadia Comăneci • Nadia Comăneci | Elena Mukhina • Elena Mukhina • Maxi Gnauck • Ecaterina Szabo • Elena Shushunova | Oksana Omelianchik • Daniela Silivaş • Henrietta Ónodi • Svetlana Boginskaya | Natalia Kalinina | Mirela Paşca • Tatiana Gutsu • Svetlana Khorkina • Svetlana Khorkina | Simona Amânar | Lilia Podkopayeva • Svetlana Khorkina • Émilie Le Pennec • Beth Tweddle • Dariya Zgoba • Ksenia Semenova • Beth Tweddle • Viktoria Komova • Aliya Mustafina • Becky Downie • Daria Spiridonova • Becky Downie • Nina Derwael|
|European Balance Beam Champions|
|Larisa Latynina • Věra Čáslavská • Polina Astakhova • Eva Rydell • Věra Čáslavská • Karin Janz • Tamara Lazakovich • Ludmilla Tourischeva • Nadia Comăneci • Elena Mukhina • Natalia Shaposhnikova • Maxi Gnauck • Lavinia Agache • Oksana Omelianchik • Daniela Silivaş • Gabriela Potorac | Olesya Dudnik • Svetlana Boginskaya • Gina Gogean • Roza Galiyeva • Yevgeniya Kuznetsova • Svetlana Khorkina • Ludmila Ezhova • Cătălina Ponor • Yulia Lozhechko • Ksenia Semenova • Yana Demyanchuk • Amelia Racea • Anna Dementyeva • Cătălina Ponor • Larisa Iordache • Maria Kharenkova • Andreea Munteanu • Aliya Mustafina • Cătălina Ponor|
|European Floor Exercise Champions|
|Larisa Latynina • Polina Astakhova • Larisa Latynina • Marjana Bilic • Věra Čáslavská • Olga Karasyova • Ludmilla Tourischeva • Nadia Comăneci • Maria Filatova | Elena Mukhina • Nadia Comăneci • Maxi Gnauck • Lavinia Agache • Elena Shushunova • Daniela Silivaş • Daniela Silivaş | Svetlana Boginskaya • Lilia Podkopayeva • Lilia Podkopayeva | Lavinia Miloşovici • Corina Ungureanu • Ludivine Furnon • Alona Kvasha • Cătălina Ponor • Isabelle Severino • Sandra Izbaşa • Vanessa Ferrari • Sandra Izbaşa • Beth Tweddle • Sandra Izbaşa • Larisa Iordache • Ksenia Afanasyeva • Larisa Iordache | Vanessa Ferrari • Ksenia Afanasyeva • Giulia Steingruber • Angelina Melnikova|