Olympic Stories

Paavo Nurmi - King of Runners

Paavo Nurmi - King of RunnersPaavo Nurmi is known to be one of the greatest runners that the world has ever seen. He is rightly known as the “King of Runners” and also known as the “Flying Finn”. He became the pride of his country Finland. Paavo Nurmi has always had a burning desire to run for his country and win as many events as he could.

He always worked hard to fulfill the high standards that he had set for himself. It was once written that it seemed he could have conquered the world with such power as he had. In the three Olympics from 1920 to 1928, Nurmi had won a total of nine golds and three silver medals, a record of sorts.

Paavo Nurmi was born on 13th June, 1897 at Turku. Turku was a port town in the southwestern part of Finland. In the Olympics at Stockholm in 1912, Hannes Kolehmainen won 3 golds in the long distance events. This made a great impression on the young Paavo who decided to repeat the feat for himself.

As a result of this idea, Paavo got his first pair of running shoes at the age of 15 years old. Paavo had all the physical attributes necessary for becoming a long distance runner. He measured 174 centimeters tall and weighed 65 kilograms when he was in his prime.

Paavo Nurmi had a systematic approach to his training. Paavo Nurmi took part in walking, running and calisthenics. He used to measure his timings in events by carrying a stopwatch in one hand. In 1914, he joined a local sports club by the name of Turun Urheiluliitto. He represented the club throughout his career.

Paavo Nurmi gained recognition in the Olympic Games at Antwerp in 1920. He lost to Joseph Guillemot in the 5,000 meter race. This was the only time that he lost to a foreign runner. However, he won the 10,000 meters and also the cross country race in that Olympics.

In the next 3 years after the Antwerp Olympics, Paavo Nurmi was the undisputed king of long distance running. He set his first world record in 1921 at Stockholm in the 10000 meters race. He completed the race in 30.40.2, going on to break many records in races ranging between 1,500 meters and 10,000 meters. By the end of 1923, Paavo Nurmi had set world records in the mile, 5000 meters and 10,000 meters track events.

Paavo Nurmi earned fame for his country especially in the Games of the VIIIth Olympiad in Paris in 1924. During the course of six days in the Olympiad, he won five gold medals for his country. Three gold medals were won by him in individual events and the other two were won by him in team events. He won the 1,500m and the 5,000m races with less than two hours between the two races. He won the cross country race and also won the 3000 meter team race.

On his 1925 tour of the United States which lasted only five months, Paavo Nurmi raced 55 times and also participated in numerous running exhibitions. He became very famous in America during that time and the Press named coined the phrase(s) "The Flying Finn", the "Phantom Finn" and "The Finnish Running Marvel". His victory margins began to decline later in 1925. In 1925 during which time he ran less, and only in Finland, he was not able to break any more records, nor was he able to improve on all his three world records for the 1500m, 5000m and 10000m.

At the age of 31, Paavo Nurmi’s interest in Olympics began to decline. He finally decided to go to Amsterdam to compete after his runaway success in America. He placed first in the 10000 meter race and took second place in the 5000 meter and the 3000 meter races. In 1929, he went for his second American tour and the next year he again seemed to climax with more of his record breaking feats. He set new world records in the six mile race in London in June and then in the 20 kilometers race in Stockholm during the month of September.

In 1932 after training hard for his fourth Olympics Games, he wanted to defend his 10000 meter title and also wanted to win the cross country marathon. Unfortunately he was suspended by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, following accusations of professionalism. However he still was allowed to practice at the Olympics village despite injuries to his foot. But he was not allowed to participate in the Los Angeles Olympics and he was reduced to the role of a mere spectator.

Nurmi was not allowed to compete abroad once he was suspended. However he won the 5000m race in Finland at Konigsberg on the 4th of October, 1931. He continued to race in Finland until 1934. After he wound up his career as a sportsman, he concentrated on a totally new career as a businessman and a building contractor. He made a good fortune in the housing industry. Nurmi was bestowed the honor of lighting the Olympics torch in the XVth Olympiad in Helsinki, Finland. The crowd was touched and was reduced to tears when he lit the torch.

Paavo Nurmi passed away in 1973. Obituaries all over the world praised him for his immense contribution to his country and to the sport of running. He has been honored in thousands of books and many journals have been written in his name.

Career Highlights
  • 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games – Gold (3), Silver
  • 1924 Paris Olympic Games – Gold (5)
  • 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games – Gold, Silver (2)

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