Unimaginable Compassion

Some background… Ron Clarke is an Australian who was chasing Emil Zatopek’s (a Czech) records, and achieved everything a runner could ever dream of achieving, except that he tended to choke when he got into the Olympics.

In 1968, the Red Army took Prague and decided to give Emil Zatopek the choice to either become a Soviet sports ambassador or clean toilets in a uranium mine. He stuck with his conscience and chose the toilets.

In the ’68 games, Ron Clarke lost his last Olympic chance to altitude sickness. Afterwards, Zatopek snuck something into Clarke’s suitcase, gave him a hug, and told him that he deserved it.

“Only later would he [Clarke] discover that Zatopek wasn’t talking about the hug at all: in his suitcase, Clarke found Zatopek’s 1952 Olympic 10,000-meters gold medal. For Zatopek to give it to a man who’d replaced his name in the record books was extraordinarily noble; to give it away at precisely the moment in his life when he was losing everything else was an act of almost unimaginable compassion… there was some kind of connection between the capacity to love and the capacity to love running. The engineering was certainly the same: both depended on loosening your grip on your own desires, putting aside what you wanted and appreciating what you got, being patient and forgiving and undemanding,” (98).

Your weekly Christopher McDougall from Born to Run


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