Caslavska emerges from 10-year seclusion
May 8 12:26 PM US/Eastern
After 10 years of voluntary seclusion, legendary Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska has finally emerged.

The seven-time Olympic champion from the 1960s disappeared from the public scene following the death of her husband Josef Odlozil from injuries suffered in a fight with the couple's son Martin in 1993.

But just a day after she celebrated her 65th birthday - last Wednesday - an interview with her was published in Magazin Dnes, a supplement magazine to the Dnes daily newspaper.

And in it, Caslavska shed light on her mystery disappearance.

"The reason (for my reclusion) was due to a campaign waged by the media after the tragedy that touched my family," said Caslavska.

Caslavska suffered from depression after the incident and shut herself away in a house in Prague, after which she was almost never seen out in public.

"Everything that happened around me, my son Martin and our whole family, was very shattering, both physically and psychologically," she added.

Martin was convicted of the murder of his father but it was later reported in 1997 that he received a pardon from then Czech President Vaclav Havel.

Caslavska was a controversial figure during her career as she stood up to the Soviet occupation of her country - then Czechoslovakia - and even made a protest on the Olympic podium, much like Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

In fact it was there that Caslavska made her own - less dramatic and less reknown - protest against oppression.

While Smith and Carlos donned black gloves and with heads bowed each made a one-fisted black power salute to raise attention to the plight of black people in America, Caslavska turned her head down and away while the Soviet national anthem was played when she stood on the podium.

She had been the victim of some controversial decisions that cost her another gold medal - although she won four in Mexico to add to the three she claimed in Tokyo four years earlier.

Hers was a response to the oppression of the communist government in her country, installed as a puppet government by the invading Soviets.

Caslavska's participation at those Games in Mexico has been in doubt after she signed a manifesto that criticised the communist government and advocated liberal and democratic reforms.

She fled arrest and holed herslef up in a remote village to escape detection. With no training facilities there she allegedly kept in shape by lifting sacks of potatoes.

She was only granted permission to travel to Mexico at the last moment but despite being under-prepared and not having had the chance to acclimatise, she still came home with four gold medals, and six medals in all.

Although she may have expected to have been welcomed home as a heroine, she was instead treated as an outcast by the government that had not forgotten or forgiven her insubordination.

Time and again she was turned down when applying for travel visas or for coaching posts.

But after the fall of the Soviet Block in 1989, Caslavska quickly found herself finally recognised as a national heroine.

She had her pick of prestigious posts and chose that of president of the National Olympic Committee.

She also retained close links with Japan (one of the posts she was offered was ambassador to Japan), the country that published her autobiography when the communists prevented it from happpening in Czechoslovakia.

She was made honorary president of the Czech-Japan Association and was also indicted into the Women's International Hall of Fame and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Copyright AFP 2005, AFP stories and photos shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium