Paavo Nurmi

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Aug 13, 2022

Table of Content

Summary

Paavo Johannes Nurmi (June 13, 1897-Helsinki, Finland, October 2, 1973) was a Finnish athlete specialized in middle and long distance events. Known as the "Flying Finn", he dominated the athletic events of the early 20th century. He set 22 official world records in distances ranging from 1500 meters to 20 kilometers and won a total of nine gold and three silver medals in the 12 Olympic events in which he participated. At his best, Nurmi successfully defended the title in the 800-meter and longer events for 121 races. In his 14-year career, he was undefeated in cross-country events and the 10,000 meters.

Belonging to a working family, Nurmi dropped out of school at the age of 12 to help his mother. In 1912, inspired by the Olympic exploits of Hannes Kolehmainen, he began to develop a strict training program. Nurmi thrived during his military service, where he set national records on the way to his international debut at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics. After winning a silver medal in the 5,000 meters, he won the 10,000 meters and the cross-country events. Three years later, Nurmi became the first and only runner to hold world records in the mile, 5000 meters and 10,000 meters at the same time. He set new Olympic records in the 1500 and 5000 meters with only an hour's rest between the two races and, at Paris 1924, won gold medals in both distances. Seemingly unscathed by the Paris heat wave, Nurmi won all his races and returned home with five gold medals, although resentful that Finnish officials prevented him from participating in the 10,000 meters.

Battling injuries and motivation problems after his exhaustive tour of the United States in 1925, Paavo saw his rivals Ville Ritola and Edvin Wide become increasingly serious challengers. At the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, Nurmi regained the title in the 10 000 meters; however, he was beaten in the 5000 and 3000 meter steeplechase. He then turned his attention to long distances, beating world records in events such as the hour and the 25-mile marathon. Although he sought to end his career with gold in the marathon, as his idol Kolehmainen had done, in a controversial case that strained relations between Finland and Sweden and sparked a series of problems with the International Association of Athletics Federations -IAAF-, Nurmi was suspended shortly before the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Two days before the opening ceremony, an IAAF council prevented him from participating. In 1934, his suspension became final and he finally opted to retire.

Later, Paavo trained Finnish runners, raised funds for his country during the Winter War and worked as a merchant, contractor and investor and earned one of the largest fortunes in his country. In 1952, he lit the Olympic cauldron at the Helsinki Olympic Games. His speed and elusive personality earned him nicknames such as "Phantom Finn," while his accomplishments, training methods and running style influenced generations of long-distance and middle-distance runners. Nurmi, who rarely ran without a stopwatch in his hand, is credited with introducing the technique of the regular stride. He died on October 2, 1973, at the age of 76.

Paavo Nurmi was born on June 13, 1897 in Turku, Finland, the son of Johan Fredrik Nurmi and Matilda Vilhelmina Laine. His siblings, Siiri, Saara, Martti and Lahja, were born in 1898, 1902, 1905 and 1908, respectively. In 1903, the Nurmi family moved from Raunistula to a 40 m² apartment in the center of Turku, where Paavo lived until 1932. The young Nurmi and his friends would walk six kilometers - sometimes twice a day - back and forth to practice swimming in Ruissalo. At the age of 11, Nurmi ran the 1500 meters in 5:02 minutes. and a year later his father, a victim of hemoptysis. The family went through serious financial problems, even renting their kitchen to another family and living in just one room. Also, Nurmi was forced to drop out of school and work as an errand boy in a bakery. Although he stopped actively running, he kept fit by pushing heavy carts on Turku's steep slopes.

At the age of 15, Nurmi rekindled his interest in athletics after being inspired by the performances of Hannes Kolehmainen, who won three golds and a silver at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. Several days later, Paavo bought his first pair of sneakers. He trained mainly cross-country in summer and cross-country skiing in winter. In 1914, he joined the Turun Urheiluliitto sports club and won his first race in the 3000 m. Within two years, he adjusted his training program to include walking, sprinting and calisthenics. At the same time he continued to provide for his family through his new job at the Ab. H. Ahlberg & Co. workshop in Turku, where he worked until entering military service in a machine gun company of the Pori Brigade in April 1919. During the Finnish civil war he remained politically passive and concentrated on his work and his Olympic ambitions. After the war he decided not to join the newly formed Finnish Workers' Sports Federation, although he wrote some articles for the federation's main organ and criticized discrimination against many of his fellow workers and athletes.

In the army, he quickly impressed in athletic competitions; while some marched, Nurmi ran the distances with a rifle on his shoulder and a backpack full of sand. His stubbornness led to some difficulties with his NCOs, yet he was favored by his superior officers, even though he refused to take the soldiers' oath. Since the unit commander, Hugo Österman, was a known sports fan, Nurmi and a few other athletes were given free time to practice. Paavo improvised new training methods in the army barracks; he ran behind trains, holding on to the rear bumper, to stretch his stride and wearing iron-clad army boots to strengthen his legs. Soon he began to set personal bests. In March 1920, he was promoted to corporal -likersantti. On May 29, 1920, he set his first national record in the 3000 meters and won the 5000 meters at the Olympic selection trials in July.

Antwerp 1920 - Paris 1924

Nurmi made his international debut in August 1920 at the Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium. He won his first Olympic medal by finishing second in the 5000 meter final, beating Sweden's Eric Backman and being beaten by France's Joseph Guillemot. This became Nurmi's only loss to a non-Finnish athlete at the Olympics. He later won gold in his other three events: the 10 000 meters, beating Guillemot and Britain's James Wilson on the final bend and improving his personal best by almost a minute, the cross-country race, beating Backman and fellow Finn Heikki Liimatainen, and the team cross-country event, in which he helped Liimatainen and Teodor Koskenniemi beat the British and Swedish teams. His victories enabled his family to restore electricity and water services to their home in Turku, and he received a scholarship for a three-year course in mechanical engineering at an industrial school in Helsinki.

Encouraged by his defeat to Guillemot, Nurmi's races became a series of experiments that he meticulously analyzed. Known for his frenetic pace in the early laps, Paavo began to carry a stopwatch and spread his efforts more evenly throughout the races. He sought to perfect his techniques and tactics to such an extent that the performances of his rivals became meaningless. Thus, in Stockholm in 1921, he set his first world record in the 10 000 meters. The following year, he broke the world records in the 2000, 3000 and 5000 meters. In 1923, he added the 1500 meters and the mile to his list. His feat of successfully defending the record in the mile, 5000 and 10 000 meters at the same time has not been achieved by any other athlete since. He also proved his speed in the 800 meters, managing to win the 1923 Finnish Championship with a new national record. That same year he graduated as an engineer and returned home to begin his preparation for the next Olympic Games.

His trip to the 1924 Paris Olympics was threatened by a knee injury, but he managed to recover and resumed training twice a day. On June 19, he took part in the finals of the 1500 and 5000 meters, distances in which he set new world records, running the first 800 meters almost three seconds faster. In the first, he ran the first 800 meters almost three seconds faster. His only challenger, the American Ray Watson, gave up - which eventually sent him to fifth place - shortly before the last lap; in this situation, Nurmi was able to reduce his speed, consolidate his victory and obtain the Olympic record by three seconds. In the second final, which started less than two hours after the first, Nurmi faced a tough contender, his compatriot Ville Ritola, who won the 3000 m steeplechase and the 10,000 m. Ritola and Sweden's Edvin Wide assumed that Paavo would be exhausted and tried to finish him off by running at a world-record pace. Realizing that he was now racing against the two men and not the clock, Nurmi threw his stopwatch on the grass. The Finns managed to overtake the Swede and continued their duel. On the home straight, Paavo increased his speed and managed to keep his rival a meter behind.

In the cross-country events, the 45°C heat meant that only 15 of 38 competitors were able to participate in the final race. Eight finishers had to be stretchered off. One athlete started running in circles after arriving at the stadium, until he jumped into the stands and hit the ground, collapsing. Wide, who managed to lead early in the event, was one of those who fainted during the event, and was even reported - incorrectly - to have died in hospital. Nurmi showed only slight signs of exhaustion after beating Ritola to victory by almost a minute and a half. After the finish of Paavo and Ritola, a defeat for Finland in the team event loomed, as the third Finn, Liimatainen, disoriented and stunned, reached the stadium but barely made any progress. An athlete in front of him collapsed just 50 meters from the finish; Liimatainen stopped and tried to find his way off the track, thinking he had reached the finish line. After ignoring the shouts thrown at him and keeping the spectators in suspense, he resumed the right direction and finished the race in 12th place, thus securing the gold for his team. Those present were stunned at the spectacle they had just witnessed, which eventually led the Olympic authorities to withdraw the cross-country competition from the Olympic program.

In the 3000-meter team race the following day, Nurmi and Ritola finished first and second; Elias Katz secured the gold for Finland by finishing fifth. In all, Paavo won five golds in five events, but he left the Games resentful of the Finnish authorities, who distributed the events among their star runners and prevented him from defending his title in the 10,000 meters, his most beloved competition. After returning to Finland, Nurmi established, in that event, a world record that lasted 13 years. He managed to hold the world record in the 1500, 3000, 5000, 10 000 meters and the mile simultaneously.

U.S. tour and Amsterdam 1928

In early 1925, Nurmi began a widely publicized tour of the United States, competing in 55 events (45 indoors) over five months, beginning on January 6 at Madison Square Garden. He competed in 55 events (45 indoors) over five months, starting on January 6 at Madison Square Garden. His debut was a carbon copy of his exploits in Helsinki and Paris. He defeated Joie Ray and Lloyd Hahn to win the mile and Ritola to win the 5000 meters, once again setting new world records at both distances. He also broke ten world indoor records in regular events and achieved several best times at rarely used distances. In all, he won 51 of the events, dropped one race and lost three: two of them were handicap races and the third, a half-mile race at Yankee Stadium where he lost to American Alan Helffrich. This defeat ended Nurmi's 121-race, four-year winning streak at distances of 800 meters and up. Despite his staunch hatred of losing, Nurmi was the first to congratulate Helffrich. The tour greatly increased Paavo's popularity in the United States, even meeting President Calvin Coolidge at the White House. However, he ended the tour with fears that he had competed too hard and had exhausted his strength.

He struggled to stay motivated, while his problems with rheumatism and calcaneal tendon intensified. In 1926, he quit his job as a machine designer and began studying business. When he entered the world of finance, one of his advisors was Risto Ryti, director of the Bank of Finland. That same year, in Berlin, he broke the world record Wide set in the 3000 meters, and improved it shortly after in Stockholm, despite Nils Eklöf repeatedly seeking to slow his pace in an attempt to help Wide. Nurmi, furious with the Swedes, vowed never to run with Eklöf again. Later that year, in October, he lost a 1500-meter race and his world record to Germany's Otto Peltzer. This marked the first time in nearly five years and 133 races that Nurmi had been defeated over a distance greater than 1000 m. The following year, the Finnish authorities banned him from international competition for refusing to run against Eklöf at the Finnkampen, canceling his rematch with Peltzer. Nurmi ended his season and threatened, until late November, to withdraw from the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. In the Olympic selection, he won bronze in the 1500 meters, so he decided to concentrate on longer distances. He added steeplechase to his program, an event in which he had competed only twice; the last time was a victory in a two-mile steeplechase event at the 1922 British Championships.

At the Olympic Games, he participated in three events. He won gold in the 10,000 meters, however, before the 5000 meters final, he was injured in the 3000 meters steeplechase qualification: falling backwards in the water jump, he hurt his hip and foot. Lucien Duquesne stopped to help him and was grateful for the gesture. On the last leg, Nurmi offered to let him win the heat, but Duquesne refused and finished second, behind Paavo. In the 5000 meters, he lost gold to Ritola and was forced to fight for silver with Wide. In the 5000 meters, he lost the gold to Ritola and was forced to fight for the silver with Wide, which he finally managed to win. Battling with injuries, he had to settle for second place in the final of the 3000m steeplechase. In the last lap, although far behind the rest, he finished nine seconds behind his compatriot Toivo Loukola. The bronze went to Ove Andersen, also from Finland.

Transfer to long distances

Nurmi told a Swedish newspaper: "This is my last season on the track. I'm starting to get old. I've been running for 15 years and I've had enough." Nevertheless, he continued to run, although he turned his attention to longer distances. In October, he broke the world records for 15 kilometers, 10 miles and the hour in Berlin. Nurmi's hour record stood for 17 years, until, in 1945, Viljo Heino ran 129 meters longer. In January 1929, Paavo began his second tour of the United States in Brooklyn. He suffered his first loss in the mile to Ray Conger in the Wanamaker Mile. Nurmi came in second, seven seconds slower than in 1925 when he set his world record; speculation immediately began whether the mile had become too short a distance for him. The following year, he set a new world record in the 20 kilometers. And in July 1931, he proved he could still win at shorter distances, beating Lauri Lehtinen, Lauri Virtanen and Volmari Iso-Hollo in the two-mile. He was the first runner to complete that distance in less than nine minutes. He sought to compete in only two events at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics: the 10,000 meters and the marathon.

However, in April 1932, the Executive Council of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) suspended Nurmi from international athletic events because of an investigation into his amateur status. The Finnish Athletics Federation authorities criticized the IAAF for acting without a hearing, but agreed to conduct the investigation. It was customary for the IAAF to accept the final decisions of national federations; Associated Press wrote that there was "little doubt as to whether the international body would accept an eventual exoneration of Nurmi by the Finnish federation." A week later, the Finnish federation ruled in Nurmi's favor, finding no evidence of the allegations of professionalism. Following this, Nurmi hoped that his suspension would be lifted in time to compete in the upcoming Olympics.

On June 26, 1932, Paavo started his first marathon during Olympic selection. He finished the 40.2-kilometer marathon in 2:22:04, six minutes faster than Armas Toivonen, who would later win Olympic bronze. This time set an unofficial Olympic record. Confident that he had achieved enough, Nurmi retired from racing due to problems with his calcaneal tendon. The Finnish Olympic Committee registered Nurmi for the 10,000 meters and for the marathon. The Guardian reported that "some of his selection times were incredible." Paavo began training at the Olympic Village in Los Angeles despite his injury. He focused on finishing his career with a gold in the marathon, just as Kolehmainen had done shortly after World War I.

Los Angeles 1932 and subsequent career

Less than three days before the 10,000 meters, a special IAAF commission, made up of the same seven members who suspended Nurmi, rejected his entries and barred him from competing in Los Angeles. Sigfrid Edström, IAAF president and chairman of the body's executive council, said the IAAF congress, scheduled to begin the next day, might not reinstate Nurmi at the Games, but would look into the case. The Associated Press called this "one of the slickest political maneuvers in the history of international athletics," and wrote that the Games would now be "like Hamlet without the celebrated Dane in the cast." In response, hundreds of people protested in Helsinki. Details of the case were not released to the press, but the evidence against Paavo was believed to be affidavits from German race promoters, who claimed that Nurmi had received between $250 and $500 per race when he went to Germany in the fall of 1931. The statements were made by Karl Ritter von Halt after Edström threatened him that if he did not provide evidence against the Finn, he would be forced to take "written measures against the German Athletics Association".

On the eve of the marathon, all participants in the event except the Finns, whose position was known, filed a petition requesting that Nurmi be allowed to participate. Edström's right-hand man, Bo Ekelund, secretary general of the IAAF and president of the Swedish Athletics Federation, approached the Finnish officials and assured them that he might be able to make arrangements for Nurmi to participate in the marathon out of competition. However, Finland argued that as long as the athlete was not declared a professional, he should be entitled to participate in the race officially.

Despite being diagnosed with a pulled calcaneal tendon two weeks earlier, Nurmi claimed he could win the event by five minutes. The congress ended without declaring Nurmi a professional; however, the council's authority to disqualify an athlete was upheld in a 13-12 vote. However, due to the close vote, the matter was postponed until the meeting in Stockholm in 1934. Nurmi refused to turn professional and continued to run as an amateur in Finland. In 1933, he ran, for the first time in three years, the 1500 meters and won the national title with his fastest time since 1926. At the IAAF meeting in August 1934, it was decided in a vote that Nurmi's suspension from international amateur athletics was final. On September 16, 1934, Nurmi retired from athletics with a victory in the 10 000 meters in Viipuri.

As long as he remained active, Nurmi was known for his reserve about his training methods. He always ran alone and, in the event that someone was daring enough to join him, he would increase his pace and quickly wear him down. Even his clubmate, Harri Larva, learned little from him. Even his club partner, Harri Larva, learned little from him. After finishing his career, Paavo became a coach for the Finnish Athletics Federation; he trained runners for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. However, in May 1935, along with the entire board of directors, Nurmi resigned from the federation after it was decided to restart athletic relations with Sweden. Three months later, however, he continued to coach; Finnish long-distance athletes won three gold, three silver and one bronze medal in Berlin. In 1936, he opened a men's clothing store in Helsinki. The place became a tourist attraction. However, Paavo spent his time in a back room, taking on another new business venture: construction. During his phase as a builder, Nurmi constructed 40 apartment buildings in Helsinki with around 100 apartments in each. After five years, he became a millionaire. His biggest rival, Ritola, ended up living in one of his apartments, at half the price. In addition to construction, Paavo also made a fortune in the stock market; he eventually became one of the richest people in his country.

In February 1940, during the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, Nurmi returned to the United States with his apprentice, Taisto Mäki, who became the first man to run the 10,000 meters in less than 30 minutes, to raise funds to support the Finnish cause. In the relief effort, led by former U.S. President Herbert Hoover, Nurmi and Mäki went on a coast-to-coast tour. Hoover welcomed the two as "ambassadors of the world's greatest sporting nation." While in San Francisco, Paavo learned that one of his apprentices, Gunnar Höckert, Olympic champion in 1936, had been killed in action. At the end of April, he returned to Finland and participated in the Continuation War in a transport company and as an instructor. Before his discharge in January 1942, he was promoted to staff sergeant and later to sergeant first class.

In 1952, persuaded by Urho Kekkonen, prime minister of Finland and former president of the Finnish Athletics Federation, Nurmi lit the Olympic cauldron at the Helsinki Olympics. His arrival stunned spectators; Sports Illustrated wrote "his famous stride was unmistakable to onlookers. When he appeared, the waves of cheers swelled from a roar to a thunderclap. When the national teams gathered on the field and saw Nurmi's figure, they broke ranks like excited students, running to the edge of the track." After lighting the cauldron, Nurmi passed the torch to Kolehmainen, who lit another cauldron located in the tower of the Olympic Stadium.

Although Nurmi believed he received too much credit as an athlete but too little as a businessman, his interest in athletics never ended. On several occasions he returned to the track; he ran for the last time on February 18, 1966, at Madison Square Garden, at the invitation of the New York Athletic Club. In 1962, he predicted that countries with greater welfare would begin to struggle with long-distance events: "The higher the standard of living of a country, the worse the results in events that ask for work and trouble. I would like to warn this generation: "Don't let this comfortable life make you lazy. Don't let the new means of transportation kill your physical exercise instincts. Many young people get used to using the automobile even for short distances."" In 1966, in front of 300 guests from sports clubs, he criticized the state of long-distance athletics in Finland, blaming sports executives for being publicity-seekers and tourists and demanding that athletes sacrifice everything to achieve something. Nurmi managed to live to see the renaissance of Finnish athletics in the 1970s, led by athletes like Lasse Virén and Pekka Vasala. He complemented Virén's style and warned Vasala to focus on Kipchoge Keino.

Although he accepted President Lyndon B. Johnson's invitation to visit the White House once again in 1964, Nurmi lived an isolated life until, beginning in the second half of the 1960s, he began giving interviews to the press. On his 70th birthday he agreed to be interviewed by Yle, Finland's public broadcasting company, only after learning that Kekkonen would be his interviewer. Suffering from health problems, with at least one heart attack, a stroke and visual impairment, on a few occasions, he spoke bitterly about sport, calling it a waste of time compared to science and art. He died on October 2, 1973 in Helsinki. He received a state funeral, attended by Kekkonen, who remarked to Nurmi: "People scan horizons in search of a successor. But no one comes and no one will come, his class died out with him." At the request of Nurmi, who enjoyed classical music and played the violin, Konsta Jylhä's Vaiennut viulu was played during his funeral.

Between 1932 and 1935, Nurmi was married to socialite Sylvi Laaksonen. Given his lack of interest in athletics, Laaksonen was against Nurmi teaching the sport to his son Matti. In 1933, he told the Associated Press, "His concentration on athletics has forced me to go to a judge for Matti Nurmi," but he became a middle-distance runner and, later, a businessman who was "the architect of his success. Paavo's relationship with his son was described as "awkward". Matti admired his father more as a businessman than as an athlete; the two never spoke about his athletic career. As a runner, the 3000 meters was Matti's best event, even matching his father's mark. On July 11, 1957, in the race in which the "three Olavis" (Salsola, Salonen and Vuorisalo) broke the world record in the 1500 meters, Matti finished in ninth place with a personal best, 2.2 seconds slower than his father when he achieved the world record in that category in 1924.

Nurmi enjoyed massages and saunas, crediting the latter for his performances during the Paris heat wave of 1924. He maintained a versatile diet, although he was a vegetarian from the age of 15 to 21. He was identified as a neurasthenic, as well as being known as a "taciturn", "stony in expression" and "stubborn". He was believed to have no close friends, but occasionally socialized and displayed his "sarcastic sense of humor" to the small group of people he met. Despite being hailed as the greatest sports figure during his zenith, Nurmi was averse to publicity and the media, going so far as to declare after his 75th birthday that "worldly fame and reputation are less valuable than a rotten blueberry." French journalist Gabriel Hanot criticized Nurmi's intensive approach to sports and wrote in 1924 that Nurmi "is even more serious, reserved, concentrated, pessimistic, fanatical. There is so much coldness about him and his self-control is so good that he never for a moment shows his feelings." Some contemporaries nicknamed him Suuri vaikenija (The Great Silent One). Ron Clarke noted that his persona was a mystery to journalists and to Finnish racers: "Even to them, he was never the least bit real. He was enigmatic, like a sphinx, a god in a cloud. It was as if he was all the time playing a role in a drama."

However, Nurmi was more receptive to his fellow athletes than to the media. He exchanged ideas with Charles Paddock and got to train with rival Otto Peltzer. Nurmi told Peltzer to forget his opponents: "Conquering oneself is an athlete's greatest challenge." Paavo was known to emphasize the importance of psychological strength: "The mind is everything; the muscles , pieces of rubber. Everything I am, I am because of my mind." Of Nurmi's eccentricities on the track, Peltzer described that "in his impenetrability, he was a Buddha gliding over the track. Stopwatch in hand, lap after lap, he runs to the tape, subject only to the laws of a mathematical table." Marathon runner John Kelley, who met him at the 1936 Olympics, said that although he seemed cold to him at first, after chatting a bit Nurmi asked him his name: "He held onto me - he was so excited. I couldn't believe it!".

His speed and elusive personality earned him nicknames like "Finnish ghost" and "Paavo the incomparable," while his mathematical prowess and use of a stopwatch led the press to describe him as a running machine. One journalist wrote that Nurmi was like a "mechanical Frankenstein created to annihilate time." Phil Cousineau noted that "his innovation - the tactic of pacing himself with a stopwatch - inspired and distressed people at a time when the robot became a symbol of the modern soulless human being." One of the most popular rumors was that he had an "extravagant heart" and a very low pulse. During the debate about his amateurism, Nurmi was joked that he was the "athlete with the lowest pulse and the highest price."

Nurmi broke 22 official world records in distances between 1500 meters and 20 kilometers. He also set 58 unofficial ones. His indoor world records were considered unofficial since the IAAF ratified the marks until the 1980s. His record for the most Olympic gold medals was equaled by gymnast Larisa Latynina in 1964, swimmer Mark Spitz in 1972 and athlete Carl Lewis in 1996 and, in 2008, swimmer Michael Phelps managed to beat it. The mark for the most medals at the Olympic Games was surpassed in 1960 when fencer Edoardo Mangiarotti achieved his 13th medal. In 1996, Time magazine selected Nurmi as the greatest Olympian in history and in 2012, he was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame.

Nurmi introduced the technique of the regular stride, pacing himself with the stopwatch and spreading his energy evenly throughout the races. "When you run against time, you don't have to run at full speed. Others can't keep the pace if it's steady and hard all the way to the end," he reasoned. Archie Macpherson noted that "with the stopwatch always in his hand, he elevated athletics to a new plane of intelligent application of effort and was the forerunner of the scientifically modern way of preparing athletes." Nurmi was considered a pioneer in the appreciation of training; he developed a systemic one-year program that included both endurance work and walking intervals. Peter Lovesey wrote that Nurmi "accelerated the progress of world records; he developed and epitomized the analytical approach to athletics; he was a profound influence not only in Finland, but throughout the world of athletics. Nurmi, his style, technique and tactics were created to be infallible and indeed seemed so, as, incessantly, his successive imitators in Finland managed to improve their marks." Cordner Nelson credited Nurmi with popularizing athletics as a spectator sport: "his mark on the world of athletics was greater than that of all the men before him. More than any other person, he elevated track and field to the glory of a major sport in the eyes of international fans and they honored him as one of the greatest athletes in the sport."

Nurmi's achievements and his training methods inspired generations of future track and field stars. As a child, Emil Zátopek would chant "I am Nurmi! I am Nurmi!" when training. Zátopek based his training system on what he could find of Nurmi's methods. Lasse Virén idolized Nurmi and it was planned that they would meet for the first time on the day Nurmi passed away. Hicham El Guerrouj became a runner so he could "repeat the achievements of the great man his grandfather spoke of". He became the first man, after Nurmi, to win the 1500 and 5000 meters in the same edition of the Olympic Games. In Amsterdam 1928, Kazimierz Wierzynski won the gold medal in the poetry competition with his poem Olympic Laurel, which included a verse about Nurmi. In 1936, Ludwig Stubbendorf and his horse Nurmi won gold medals in the individual and team competitions of the equestrian event.

In 1925, Wäinö Aaltonen sculpted a bronze statue of Nurmi. The original was placed in the Ateneum art museum, although copies also exist in Turku, Jyväskylä, in front of the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki and in the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 1961, when the wreck of the Swedish ship Vasa was raised from the sea, a miniature copy of Nurmi's statue was discovered, a joke made by students at the Helsinki University of Technology. Other statues of Nurmi were sculpted by Renée Sintenis in 1926 and by Carl Eldh, whose 1937 work Löpare (English: Runners) depicts a race between Nurmi and Edvin Wide. In 1925, Boken om Nurmi (English, The book about Nurmi) , the first biographical book about the Finnish athlete, was published in Sweden. In 1961, Finnair named its first Douglas DC-8 after the racer. Nurmi's former rival, Ville Ritola, boarded the plane when he returned to Finland in 1970. The asteroid (1740) Paavo Nurmi discovered by Finnish astronomer Yrjö Väisälä in 1939 was named in Nurmi's honor.

The Paavo Nurmi Marathon, held annually since 1969, is Wisconsin's oldest marathon. In Finland, another marathon is named after Nurmi and has been held annually in Turku since 1992, along with the Paavo Nurmi Games track and field competition, which began in 1957. Finlandia University, a Finnish-born American university, named its track and field center after Nurmi. In 1987, the Bank of Finland issued a 10-mark bill with Nurmi's portrait on it. However, in 1993, the bill was replaced by a 20-mark note with the portrait of Väinö Linna. In 1997, a historic stadium in Turku was renamed Paavo Nurmi Stadium. 20 world records have been set in that stadium, including records in the 1500 meters and the mile by John Landy, in the 3000 meters by Nurmi and in the 10,000 meters by Zátopek. In fiction, Nurmi appears in William Goldman's Marathon Man (1974), as the idol of the protagonist. In 2000, an opera about Nurmi was premiered at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki: Paavo Suuri. Suuri juoksu. Suuri uni. (in English, Paavo the Great. Great Race. Great Dream.) written by Paavo Haavikko and with music composed by Tuomas Kantelinen. In an episode of The Simpsons, Mr. Burns boasts that he once passed Nurmi in his old car.

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  11. Robert Parienté et Alain Billouin, La fabuleuse histoire de l'Athlétisme, page 325
  12. a b et c Robert Parienté et Alain Billouin, op. cit., page 326
  13. Robert Parienté et Alain Billouin, op.cit., page 327
  14. Serge Gaudreault, Les Aventuriers de la Manche, Saguenay, Éditions JCL, 2016, 350 p. (ISBN 978-2-89431-520-0), p. 138-139