Věra Čáslavská

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Věra Čáslavská : biography

03 May 1942 –

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.

Personal life

Shortly after the 1968 Olympics, 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. They had a son, Martin, and daughter, Radka. The couple divorced in 1987. In 1993, her son and ex-husband were involved in an altercation which resulted in Josef’s death. Čáslavská fell into depression and was rarely seen in public afterwards. Martin was convicted of his father’s death but was granted a pardon from Václav Havel in 1997.

After the fall of Communism in November 1989 Čáslavská’s status improved dramatically. She became President Havel’s adviser and Honorary President of the Czech-Japan Association. Later, after leaving the President’s Office, she was elected President of the Czech Olympic Committee. In 1995 she was appointed to the IOC membership committee.

Čáslavská has received many accolades for her contributions to the sport of gymnastics. In addition to the Olympic Order, she was awarded a 1989 Pierre de Coubertin International Fair Play Trophy by UNESCO and was noted at the ceremony for her "exemplary dignity." In 1995 she was honored with the Czech Republic’s Medal of Merit She was inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1991 and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2010 she was awarded 3rd class Order of the Rising Sun. In 1968 she also was presented a katana and a ceremonial kimono from the Japanese emperor.

As of 2008, Čáslavská resides in Prague, and has opted to remain largely out of the public eye.