Čáslavská bewitches gymnastics onlookers

While the Japanese public were thrilling to the achievements of Yukio Endo, there was another gymnast who was able to match his haul of three golds and a silver - Vĕra Čáslavská, from Czechoslovakia. She was the outstanding female gymnast at these Games, and destined to be one of the sport’s biggest stars.

Čáslavská was a secretary at home in Prague. She had started off as a figure skater, but had turned to gymnastics as a child and then blossomed as a teenager. Her international debut came at the age of 16 and she had made her Olympic debut two years later, at the Rome Games.

There she had performed well at a number of events, a versatility that was reflected in the all-around competitions. Individually, she came eighth; the Czech team won silver.

By 1964, though, Čáslavská had developed hugely. She came to Tokyo as one of the most acclaimed competitors. She had taken a silver medal at the 1962 World Championships in the all-around category, losing out only to the legendary Larisa Latynina.

Two years later, and she had improved again. The all-around competition pitched Čáslavská against Latynina once again, but this time with a different outcome as the Czech athlete recorded the highest score in the first three sections. Latynina topped the standings in the floor exercises, but Čáslavská was third in that and her victory was secured by a comfortable margin of more than half a point.

Golds came, too, in the vault – where she again beat Latynina into silver - and the balance beam. In the team all-around, Čáslavská had the highest individual score, but Czechoslovakia could not overcome the depth of excellence available to the Soviet Union and finished just under a point behind, to win silver.

But a haul of three golds and a silver, as well as her outgoing personality, was enough to propel Čáslavská to global game. She was to return to Olympic competition four years later, when she would again be one of the stars of the Games, winning medals in all six events, defending her all-around title and being voted the most popular female athlete at the Mexico City Olympic Games.