06/04/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT
There is no place PEOPLE won't go in pursuit of a good story. But after New York editors send the assigning wires to bureaus around the world, it is resourceful correspondents who must come up with the goods, often against seemingly insuperable odds. One of these dogged sorts is longtime London bureau chief Fred Hauptfuhrer, whose efforts in Eastern Europe resulted in the story (page 53) on the women's world-record holder in the 400 and 800 meters, Czechoslovakian Jarmila Kratochvilova.
The piece was initiated two months ago as part of PEOPLE'S continuing coverage leading up to the Olympic Games. It took Hauptfuhrer a month just to obtain the requisite visa from the Czech embassy in London. He flew to Prague on May 9, the day after the Soviet Union announced its withdrawal from the Games. With Czechoslovakia about to follow suit, officials had second thoughts about this Western correspondent visiting their most celebrated Olympic athlete—and latest victim of international politics. Hauptfuhrer was informed the interview was off because it would constitute "provocation" and "scandalization." Besides, they told him, Kratochvilova was in the hospital.
After protesting to the foreign ministry, Hauptfuhrer concluded that "any further attempts through official channels would be fruitless. The only chance, however slim, would be to set off on my own." With photographer Ian Cook and an interpreter, he hired a taxi and set off for the village of Golcuv Jenikov, 60 miles away.
A pedestrian in town directed them to the doorstep of the house the runner shares with her sister's family. Jarmila was off training in a nearby town, according to her sister, but would be back in two hours. Coffee and cake were served to help pass the time. When she returned and Hauptfuhrer introduced himself, Kratochvilova expressed surprise: Officials had not given her the usual one-week notice of an interview. Thinking quickly, Hauptfuhrer produced his visa, which had been issued expressly for the story before the Soviets said nyet to L.A. Jarmila was reserved but courteous and invited him to stay on for his interview. By the end of the evening, he and his party were sharing dinner with the family. Hauptfuhrer left Golcuv Jenikov that night with one of the first post-boycott interviews given by an East-bloc athlete—a tribute to his ingenuity and professional stubbornness.