Friday, August 10, 2007

Lasse Viren, Legendary Runner #5

Lasse Viren is best remembered as the runner that won the Steve Prefontaine 5000m. race in the '72 Olympics (pictured to the right courtesy of With his 10000m. victory, seven days earlier, Viren joined Hannes Kolehmainen in '12, Emil Zatopek in '52, Vladimir Kuts in '56 in the exclusive club of runners who won the 5000m./10000m. double in the same Olympics. Miruts Yifter became the fifth runner to accomplish that feat by turning the double in the '80 Olympics.

In his '72 10000m. final, Viren got tangled up with Emiel Puttemans, which resulted in Viren and Mohammed Gammoudi falling to the track. While Gammoudi remained motionless at the side of the track, Viren quickly sprang to his feet as the pack gained 30 meters on him. Within 100m., Viren was back in the midst of the lead pack and went on to capture the race in a new world record (WR) time of 27:38.40. He credits the slow early pace for his ability to get back into the race so quickly but the furious finish lead by David Bedford's surges resulted in the new WR.

Viren returned back to Finland to continue his duties as a policeman. He was well renowned for rather ordinary results in non-Olympic years. Perhaps those results can be attributed to the leg problems he dealt with for several years following the '72 Olympics. Viren, along with his coach, Rolf Haikkola, planned his training plan meticulously for a tremendous peak every four years. Linking Viren to past greats, Haikkola was well known for being heavily influenced by Arthur Lydiard. Viren's critics have long claimed that his success in each Olympics was due to blood boosting (practice of freezing one's own blood and returning it back to the body which results in an increase aerobic capacity). He has always denied this claim, giving credit to the value of drinking reindeer milk. Viren's resting heart rate of 28 might have been more of an indication of his talent.

In the '76 Olympics, Viren nearly duplicated Zatopek's incredible distance triple (5000m., 10000m. and marathon) by finishing 5th in the marathon along with his two victories. First, he dispatched, future Olympic marathon champion, Carlos Lopes, in a 10000m. duel that resulted in an easy victory. The 5000m. race was in the opinion of many, one of the greatest races in Olympic history. The photo to the right (courtesy of shows the mass finish of runners, including the sprawling Klaus-Peter Hildenbrand edging Rod Dixon for the bronze medal. Viren entered the marathon just 21 hours after his 5000m. final and by his own account, "It was a race too far" and "I had nothing left".

Viren's final tally in three Olympics ('72, '76 and '80) was 4 gold medals and 2 fifth place finishes ('76 marathon and '80 10000m.). He will always be a controversial figure in the sport due to the allegations of the blood boosting but there is no denying his part in the history of distance running. To this day, he is still the only runner to record the distance double (5k./10k.) victory in two consecutive Olympics.

Picture courtesy of

We get closer to #1 in my next post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Viren is Clean! No blood boosting! He was a talented! And training hard!

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