Věra Čáslavská

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Věra Čáslavská (Czech pronunciation: [ˈvjɛra ˈtʃaːslafskaː]; 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.[1]

Čáslavská is the most decorated Czech gymnast in history and is one of only two female gymnasts, along with Soviet Larissa Latynina, to win the all-around gold medal at two consecutive Olympics.[2] She was also the 1966 all-around World Champion and the 1965 and 1967 all-around European Champion.

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.[3] 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). 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.

In addition to her gymnastics success, Čáslavská is known for her outspoken support of the Czechoslovak democratization movement and her opposition to the 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. As of 2008, 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 Larissa Latynina.[4][5]

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