Born in May of 1942, during the Second World War, Vera Caslavska was 26 when she arrived in Mexico City ready to defend her Olympic All-Around Title from Tokyo 1964. As it is well known she had publicly opposed the Soviet invasion of her home country which forced her to go into hiding right before the Olympics took place, just barely, at the last minute, she got permission to leave the country and fly to Mexico. There, in a rebellious but courageous act, she put her head down when the Soviet anthem played for Larissa Petrik who had tied her for Floor gold. You can watch clips of the incident and her wedding at the beginning of the video “Things you never expected to see at the Olympics”
Back at home, her life wasn’t easy and after defying the Soviets at a worldwide televised event it was only going to get worse once she got back. So, likely, all that reasoning along with the promise Vera and Josef had made that if she defended her all-around title and he advanced to the 1500m final they would marry in Mexico City. Josef was a middle-distance runner.
Vera Caslavska had already become a sweetheart to the Mexican audience by performing to the regional music “Hat Dance” but by getting married in the city’s cathedral, where dozens of people rounded up to get a glimpse of the iconic couple, she skyrocketed her popularity and instantly became a part of Mexico’s history. In the late 70s she returned to the country to work as a coach for a couple of years.
But back to her wedding, she married Josef Odlozil on October 26th, 1968, but who was Josef Odlozil? Three years older than Vera he was the 1964 silver Olympic medallist in the 1500 meters. Upon the couple’s return to Czechoslovakia, for political reasons, aka his marriage to Vera, Josef was forced to leave his military career so he became a coach working both in their native Prague and in Mexico; he naturally accompanied his wife during her time in her adoptive country in the late 70s.
The couple had two children, son Martin and daughter Radka, and after nearly 20 years of marriage they divorced in 1987. Two years later in 1989, communism was finally over in Czechoslovakia allowing Odlozil to regain his post in the military where he served until his untimely death four years later.
Circumstances of the altercation between Odlozil and his son are not quite clear but it is said they had an argument at a local bar, Martin punched his father and he fell hitting his head. The tragic episode left Odlozil in a coma for a month; he finally passed away on September 10th, 1993 two months shy of his 55th birthday. A memorial race is held in his honor every year.
Martin was in prison until 1997 for his father’s death, so naturally even with communism down the 90s were not happy years for Vera who saw her life splashed with such a tragedy. But with the start of a new millennium, Vera finally had a happier life where she could enjoy all the recognition her athlete years had earned her. Her last appearance in her adoptive country happened at the 2012 Mexican Open in Acapulco where she surprised the audience by doing a perfect split at the age of 70.
Three years later she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and finally, on August 30th, 2016, she passed away, twenty-three years after her former husband Josef Odlozil.