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Renowned statistician Havlín dies after long hospitalization

A national indoor championship should be a festive occasion, but those entering Prague’s Otakar Jandera Hall for the first day of competition on Saturday (27 Feb) were met with the surprising and sad news of the death last Wednesday (24 Feb) of one of athletics’ most renowned statisticians, Jirí Havlín.

Havlín, 66, had been hospitalized in January for an undisclosed ailment and died there after more than a month of treatment.

A native of the small Elbe city of Kolín, 55 kilometres east of the Czech capital, Havlín was born on 19 September 1943.   He began his work in athletics statistics in the early 1970s as part of the famous Czechoslovak (CS) group headed by eminent Ceskoslovenský sport journalist, Jan Popper.   After the latter’s death in 1986, Havlín assumed a key role in coordinating the group’s work, and he became one of the main world list compilers and was a major contributor to the ATFS Annual in the ensuing years. 

A member of the ATFS (Association of Track and Field Statisticians) since 1981, he was elected to that organization’s Executive Committee in 1986 and continued in that post until his death.

He also worked on the IAAF statistical team at World Championships in 1991, 1993, 1995, and 1999, as well as at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. 

Havlín was the coordinator of the highly-regarded “Svetové tabulky” series of world lists produced by the CS group and earlier had taken a key role in the ground-breaking statistical bulletins called “Start”.  He edited the book “Who’s Who in Czech Athletics” and contributed to other volumes, such as “Small Encyclopedia of Athletics” and “100 Years of the Queen”, the latter a centenary history of athletics in his homeland, all published in his native language. 

On hearing of Havlín’s death, former IAAF Statistician Richard Hymans remarked from his London home that “this is a great loss.  I first met Jirí in 1978 during the European Championships in Prague.  While Vladimír Víšek and Jan Popper were the best known CS Group statisticians of the time, it was Jirí who did the most work to ensure that the magnificent CS Group book on the history of the Championships was produced for that occasion.   He did a fantastic amount of work on that group’s publications both before and after that time.”

Hymans continued, “For more than twenty years, he was responsible for the women’s lists in the ATFS Annual, and he still managed to find time each year to send me corrections to the men’s draft list.  Jirí had endured previous medical problems going back some years, but it is still a shock to hear of his passing.  I shall miss him.”

At university, Havlín studied mathematics and physics, which undoubtedly deepened his lifelong interest in athletics’ statistics and contributed to his meticulous approach.  His technical education provided him with the opportunity of working with one of the first computers imported into Czechoslovakia in the late 1970s.  He was also a crossword puzzle fan, and in his last years he assisted as a statistician at major Czech competitions in Prague and Ostrava. 

He is survived by his former wife Ina, children Adam, Lukáš and Kristýna, as well as by a grandson Štepán.   

Milan Urban, Alfons Juck, and Ed Gordon for the IAAF