Věra Čáslavská

Věra Čáslavská bigraphy, stories - Gymnast

Věra Čáslavská : biography

03 May 1942 –

Věra Čáslavská ( 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 for women). 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 1968 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 still resides in Prague and has opted to remain largely out of the public eye.

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. 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.