With another Olympiad upon us, we should be reminded of the great moments provided by our many Olympic heroes. A lot of these great moments were provided by long distance runners. Throughout the long and storied history of the Olympic Games, there have been a great many runners whose names and deeds have become the stuff of legend. There was Abebe Bikila, a member of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selasse’s Palace Guard, who would come out of nowhere to win the Marathon at the 1960 Summer Olympic Games in Rome while running in his bare feet! He would repeat his victory at Tokyo in 1964 – this time wearing shoes. Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia would win unprecedented TRIPLE Gold Medals in the 5000 Meter Run, 10000 Meter Run, and the Marathon at the 1952 Summer Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland. Finally, there was Frank Shorter who would become the first U.S. Gold Medalist in the Marathon in 64 years at Munich, West Germany in 1972. His victory was significant because it set off a nationwide running boom that, to some degree, continues to this day. Perhaps the greatest Olympic distance runner of all was Paavo Nurmi, the legendary “Flying Finn”, whose Olympic career spanned the period from 1920 to 1928. Nurmi would win a record NINE Gold Medals in Track and Field events. This record would be equaled seventy two years later by Carl Lewis – a sprinter!
Paavo Nurmi was born on June 13, 1897 in Torvu, Finland. His father, a carpenter, died when he was only 12 years old. One of the more remarkable facts about Nurmi was that he had a resting heart rate of ONLY 39 beats per minute! Nurmi had his earliest success at 3000 Meters, but it was during a short stint in the army that he first attracted attention. Nurmi entered a 20 Kilometer march with full equipment. Running was allowed, so he ran the entire way. In spite of the fact that he was carrying a rifle, a cartridge belt, and an 11 pound sack of sand, he finished the course way ahead of everyone else. So quickly, in fact, that some officials were convinced that he had cheated.
All throughout his running career, Nurmi ran his races with a stopwatch. However, towards the end of his races, he would toss the watch on the ground. His first Olympic Gold Medal came at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium in the 10000 Meter Run. Afterwords, Second Place finisher, Joseph Guillemot of France (who had beaten Nurmi in the 5000 Meter Run earlier in the Games) vomited on Nurmi’s shoes. This was