A great role model: Tributes to Olympic great who defied Soviet oppressors

Olympic gymnastics great Vera Caslavska, who became a national heroine after standing up to Soviet oppression, has died at the age of 74. The seven-times gold medallist died, best remembered for her quiet gesture of defiance on the winner’s rostrum in 1968, died in Prague after having cancer of the pancreas. “She was always a great role model to others,” said Jiri Kejval, the Czech Olympic Committee president. “Till the last moment, she was full of energy which she managed to pass on to all those around her. We will miss her greatly.”

We went to Mexico determined to sweat blood to defeat the invaders’ representatives

Vera Caslavska, on her triumphs in Mexico City in 1968

Caslavska won three Olympic golds in 1964. But her defining moment came four years later, when she signed a document calling for reforms in Czechoslovakia, provoking the Soviet Union into sending in the tanks to crush dissent. She was only allowed to compete in Mexico in 1968 at the last moment but won four more golds. When she stood on the podium alongside the Russian joint winner of the floor discipline, she turned her head and looked down as the Russian national anthem was played. She later served as president of the Czech Olympic Committee and received the U.N.’s Pierre de Coubertin Prize for promoting fair play in 1989.