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Věra Čáslavská

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Věra Čáslavská
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Čáslavská at the 1968 Olympic Games

Country represented

Flag of the Czech Republic Czechoslovakia

Born

May 3 1942
Prague, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Czechoslovakia

Died

August 30 2016 (age 74)
Prague, Czech Republic

Current status

Deceased

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.

Gymnastics Career

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.

Aftermath

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.[1]

Medal Count

Year Event TF AA VT UB BB FX
1959Krakow European Championships2nd1st
1960Rome Olympic Games2nd
1961Leipzig European Championships3rd3rd
1962Prague World Championships2nd2nd1st3rd
1964Tokyo Olympic Games2nd1st1st1st
1965 Sofia European Championships 1st 1st 1st 1st 1st
1966Dortmund World Championships1st1st1st2nd2nd
1967 Amsterdam European Championships 1st 1st 1st 1st 1st
1968 Mexico City Olympic Games 2nd 1st 1st 1st 2nd 1st

References


Olympic All-Around Champions
Maria GorokhovskayaLarisa LatyninaVěra ČáslavskáLudmilla TourischevaNadia ComăneciElena DavydovaMary Lou RettonElena ShushunovaTatiana GutsuLilia PodkopayevaAndreea Răducan* Simona AmânarCarly PattersonNastia LiukinGabby DouglasSimone Biles


Olympic Vault Champions
Ekaterina KalinchukLarisa LatyninaMargarita NikolaevaVěra ČáslavskáKarin JanzNellie KimNatalia ShaposhnikovaEcaterina SzaboSvetlana BoginskayaLavinia Miloşovici | Henrietta ÓnodiSimona AmânarElena ZamolodchikovaMonica RoşuHong Un-JongSandra IzbaşaSimone Biles


Olympic Uneven Bars Champions
Margit KorondiAgnes KeletiPolina AstakhovaVěra ČáslavskáKarin JanzNadia ComăneciMaxi GnauckMa Yanhong | Julianne McNamaraDaniela SilivaşLu LiSvetlana KhorkinaÉmilie Le PennecHe KexinAliya Mustafina


Olympic Balance Beam Champions
Nina BocharovaAgnes KeletiEva BosákováVěra ČáslavskáNatalia KuchinskayaOlga KorbutNadia ComăneciEcaterina Szabo | Simona PăucăDaniela SilivaşTatiana LysenkoShannon MillerLiu XuanCătălina PonorShawn JohnsonDeng LinlinSanne Wevers


Olympic Floor Exercise Champions
Agnes KeletiAgnes Keleti | Larisa LatyninaLarisa LatyninaVěra Čáslavská | Larisa PetrikOlga KorbutNellie KimNellie Kim | Nadia ComăneciEcaterina SzaboDaniela SilivaşLavinia MiloşoviciLilia PodkopayevaElena ZamolodchikovaCătălina PonorSandra IzbaşaAly RaismanSimone Biles


World All-Around Champions
Vlasta DěkanováHelena RakoczyGalina RudkoLarisa LatyninaVěra ČáslavskáLudmilla TourischevaElena MukhinaNellie KimOlga BicherovaNatalia YurchenkoElena Shushunova | Oksana OmelianchikAurelia DobreSvetlana BoginskayaKim ZmeskalShannon MillerLilia PodkopayevaSvetlana KhorkinaMaria OlaruSvetlana KhorkinaChellsie MemmelVanessa FerrariShawn JohnsonBridget SloanAliya MustafinaJordyn WieberSimone Biles


World Vault Champions
Vlasta DěkanováHelena Rakoczy • Anna Petersen • Larisa LatyninaVěra ČáslavskáErika ZucholdOlga KorbutNellie KimDumitriţa TurnerMaxi GnauckBoriana StoyanovaElena ShushunovaOlesya DudnikLavinia MiloşoviciHenrietta ÓnodiElena PiskunGina GogeanSimona Amânar | Lilia PodkopayevaGina GogeanSimona AmânarElena ZamolodchikovaSvetlana KhorkinaElena ZamolodchikovaOksana ChusovitinaCheng FeiKayla WilliamsAlicia SacramoneMcKayla MaroneyHong Un-JongMaria Paseka


European All-Around Champions
Larisa Latynina • Natalia Kot • Larisa Latynina • Marjana Bilic • Věra ČáslavskáKarin JanzTamara Lazakovich | Ludmilla TourischevaLudmilla TourischevaNadia ComăneciMaxi GnauckOlga BicherovaElena ShushunovaDaniela SilivaşSvetlana BoginskayaTatiana GutsuGina GogeanLilia PodkopayevaSvetlana KhorkinaAlina KozichMarine DebauveVanessa FerrariKsenia SemenovaAnna DementyevaAliya MustafinaGiulia SteingruberEllie Downie


European Vault Champions
Larisa Latynina • Natalia Kot • Ute Starke • Solveig Egman • Věra ČáslavskáKarin JanzLudmilla TourischevaLudmilla Tourischeva | Angelika Hellmann • Nellie KimNadia ComăneciCristina GrigoraşOlga BicherovaElena ShushunovaSvetlana BoginskayaTatiana GutsuLavinia MiloşoviciSimona Amânar • Adrienn Varga • Simona AmânarNatalia ZiganshinaMonica RoşuFrancesca Benolli • Anna Grudko • Carlotta Giovannini • Oksana ChusovitinaAriella KaeslinEkaterina KurbatovaSandra IzbaşaGiulia SteingruberMaria PasekaGiulia SteingruberColine Devillard


European Uneven Bars Champions
Larisa LatyninaPolina Astakhova • Thea Belmer • Věra ČáslavskáKarin JanzTamara LazakovichLudmilla TourischevaNadia ComăneciNadia Comăneci | Elena MukhinaElena MukhinaMaxi GnauckEcaterina SzaboElena Shushunova | Oksana OmelianchikDaniela SilivaşHenrietta ÓnodiSvetlana Boginskaya | Natalia Kalinina | Mirela PaşcaTatiana GutsuSvetlana KhorkinaSvetlana Khorkina | Simona Amânar | Lilia PodkopayevaSvetlana KhorkinaÉmilie Le PennecBeth TweddleDariya ZgobaKsenia SemenovaBeth TweddleViktoria KomovaAliya MustafinaBecky DownieDaria SpiridonovaBecky DownieNina Derwael


European Balance Beam Champions
Larisa LatyninaVěra ČáslavskáPolina Astakhova • Eva Rydell • Věra ČáslavskáKarin JanzTamara LazakovichLudmilla TourischevaNadia ComăneciElena MukhinaNatalia ShaposhnikovaMaxi GnauckLavinia AgacheOksana OmelianchikDaniela SilivaşGabriela Potorac | Olesya DudnikSvetlana BoginskayaGina GogeanRoza GaliyevaYevgeniya KuznetsovaSvetlana KhorkinaLudmila EzhovaCătălina PonorYulia LozhechkoKsenia SemenovaYana DemyanchukAmelia RaceaAnna DementyevaCătălina PonorLarisa IordacheMaria KharenkovaAndreea MunteanuAliya MustafinaCătălina Ponor


European Floor Exercise Champions
Larisa LatyninaPolina AstakhovaLarisa Latynina • Marjana Bilic • Věra ČáslavskáOlga KarasyovaLudmilla TourischevaNadia ComăneciMaria Filatova | Elena MukhinaNadia ComăneciMaxi GnauckLavinia AgacheElena ShushunovaDaniela SilivaşDaniela Silivaş | Svetlana BoginskayaLilia PodkopayevaLilia Podkopayeva | Lavinia MiloşoviciCorina UngureanuLudivine Furnon • Alona Kvasha • Cătălina PonorIsabelle SeverinoSandra IzbaşaVanessa FerrariSandra IzbaşaBeth TweddleSandra IzbaşaLarisa IordacheKsenia AfanasyevaLarisa Iordache | Vanessa FerrariKsenia AfanasyevaGiulia SteingruberAngelina Melnikova

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