After completing a promising number of laps in the 12-minute test, I was encouraged to join the Track and Field team, during my freshman year in high school. Since I was not fleet of foot (and a mighty 85 lbs. to boot), there was no question as to what would be my events. Being a sports history buff, I quickly started searching about information on past distance runners. I remember finding an Olympic history book at a garage sale that started it all. Since this was the mid 80s, no internet, no google or wikipedia, my search continued at the local library. It was pretty clear after reading many books, several runners stood out from the rest and really had an impact on what the sport is today.
So without further adieu, here are my most influential, legendary runners from the past starting with #10.
In the Olympics between 1912 to 1936, the middle and long distance events where dominated by the "Flying Finns" and Hannes Kolehmainen was the first Finnish runner to make an impact. During the 1912 Olympics, Hannes won gold medals in the 5000, 10000 and the now discontinued cross country event (individual). He also won a silver medal in the cross country team competition which was won by a trio of American runners. Of note is that the Russian flag was raised for each of his victories as Finland was still part of Russia at the time.
His narrow 5000 meter victory, pictured above (courtesy of http://www.as.com), was in world record time of 14:36.6 and the first time a runner had broken the 15 minute barrier. Hannes turned his attention to road racing as he took part in the 1917 Boston Marathon, finishing 4th. With no Olympics in 1916, due to World War I, Hannes had to wait several more years to win his last gold medal in the 1920 Olympic marathon. Hannes went on to also set world records in the 25km. and 30km. races. His success lead to the Finns raking in a tally of 16 gold medals between the '20 to '36 Olympics.
His last shining moment was in 1952 when he was given the honor of lighting the Olympic flame in his homeland. The runner to hand him the torch? He will be heard from soon.
#9 will be up next...