Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Paavo Nurmi, Legendary Runner #8

The #8 runner on my list was the next of the "Flying Finn", Paavo Nurmi. He would go on to surpass Hannes Kolehmainen in terms of stature and accomplishments, earning legendary status. To this day, Nurmi still holds the record for most medals won by a Track and Field athlete as he amassed a total of 12 medals, 9 of them gold. This might be a record that will never be surpassed.

Nurmi (Nurmi, Paavo. [Photograph]. Retrieved August 16, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/ebc/art-88010) made his debut in the 1920 Olympics, winning the 10000 meters and the cross country individual and team gold medals. He also finished 2nd. in the 5000 meters to Frenchman Joseph Guillemot, which marked his only defeat in the Olympics to a foreign runner. This defeat is reported to have started his routine of carrying a stopwatch in this hand to improve his race pace tactics.

The 1924 Olympics turned out to be his most successful and memorable of his career. He won three gold medals in the cross country events (two team and one individual). This was the last Olympics for the cross country events as only 15 of 38 competitors finished the longer xc event in the brutal Parisian heat. In the same Olympiad, Nurmi also won the 1500m. and 5000m. races with less than an hour break between the two events. In total, Nurmi ran 7 races in 6 days, winning each event. It's conceivable that Nurmi could have run and won the 10000 meters as well but was held out of the race by Finnish team officials. They divided up the races between their two star runners, Nurmi and Ville Ritola.

In 1925, Nurmi toured the United States running a staggering 55 races, winning 53 of them. With most of the races run indoors, Nurmi established many new world records in standard and rare distances. The 29 records that were broken are considered unofficial since the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) did not approve indoor records until 1987. He was also a great ambassador of the sport running in several exhibitions at schools and military barracks. The grueling schedule did take it's toll on Nurmi (picture courtesy of www.davidstuff.com) as he was never quite the same runner after the trip.

Nurmi continued his record haul of medals at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam with his last gold medal in the 10000 meters. He finished 2nd. to his countrymen in the 5000m. and 3000m. steeplechase races. This would sadly turn out to be Nurmi's last Olympics as he was deemed a professional by the IAAF before the 1932 Olympics.

At the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Nurmi was given the honor of running in front of 70,000 adoring fans as he carried the Olympic torch into the stadium.

Runner #7 will be posted tomorrow...

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