(1942-2016) Oftentimes people claim that sports and politics should not be mixed. Someone who could not hide her true colours, but instead used her fame and international platform to make a political stand was Czechoslovak gymnast Věra Čáslavská. Fifty years ago she protested during the Olympic Games in Mexico, after which she was abruptly forced into retirement.
Čáslavská was not just anyone: she won a total of 22 international titles between 1959 and 1968, including seven Olympic gold and four silver medals, four World titles and eleven European championships. Having been born in Nazi-occupied Prague, Čáslavská grew up under the communist regime, until finally in 1968 the country welcomed a period of political liberalisation known as Prague Spring. The reforms came to an abrupt end when the Soviets sent in more than half a million Warsaw Pact troops to occupy the country. Čáslavská – at the time one of the best known women in the country – spoke out in favour of the democratic movement, and also took her protest to the world stage of the Olympic Games by looking down and away while the Soviet national anthem was played during medal ceremonies. While her compatriots applauded her actions, they resulted in her becoming a persona non grata in the new regime. She was not only forced to quit her profession, but was even denied the right to travel, work and to attend sporting events. After the Velvet Revolution late 1989, her status improved and she held several positions of honour, including a term as President of the Czech Olympic Committee, until her death in 2016.
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