May 1942: Birth of the all-time great gymnastics Věra Čáslavská

Věra Čáslavská’s achievements in gymnastics were simply phenomenal: seven gold and four silver medals at the Olympic Games, four world championship victories and 11 European championship titles.

In 1968, Čáslavská responded to the crushing of his native country’s Prague Spring movement by signing the Two Thousand Words petition against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia.

Věra Čáslavská at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 |  Photo: e-Sbírky, National Museum, CC BY 4.0

She extended her legendary status with a silent protest against the occupation at the Mexico City Olympics in October 1968, when she bowed her head during a medal ceremony to look away from a Soviet flag.

Čáslavská was then persecuted for her political position, prevented from working as a trainer and forced to become a housekeeper.

After the fall of communism, she became an important official of the Czechoslovakian/Czech Olympic Committee as well as the International Olympic Committee. In 1990, she also became sports adviser to President Václav Havel.

Věra Čáslavská was born in Prague on May 3, 1942. At the Mexico Olympics in 1968, she married Josef Odložil, silver medalist in the 1500 m, with whom she had a daughter, Radka (1969), and a son, Martin ( 1974). She died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer on August 30, 2016 in Prague at the age of 74.

Berta D. Wells