Paavo Nurmi – 1925
By: Patrick Price, editor of writingaboutrunning.com
There are few Olympic Champions that have dominated their respective sport the way that Paavo Nurmi did. Nurmi won nine Gold Medals and three Silvers between 1920 and 1928, a record that stands to this day. He is tied with Olympic Legends Larisa Latynina, Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis with twelve. His most renowned run was that of the 1924 Paris Olympics when he took five Golds! Two of the Golds he won were in the Cross Country race. This would be the last Olympics that Cross Country would be held. In 1925, he came to America.
Nurmi was regarded as the top distance runner in the World when he first came stateside, and his trip was two years in the making, as he had to complete his studies in Helsinki before making the trip. He set sail in November of 1924 and trained every day on the SS Celtic. He arrived in New York City on December 10, 1924 and was immediately given the key to the city.
The first race Nurmi would run on US soil was at sold out Madison Square Garden on January 6, 1925. He ran the mile and the 5000 meters within an hour and showed the true “spirit of sisu (Finish Spirit)” in finishing strong, after many thought he was down and out. He set indoor world records in both events! Already an international star, this event made him a superstar in the United States and propelled him to a year long tour of the country that included 55 races (51 of which he won). He also set twelve more indoor World Records along the way. Nurmi was so durable, that on one occasion, when he had to drop out of a race due to stomach trouble, there were rumors in Finland of his death. They could not understand a plausible situation where he would not finish a race!
Few, if any, could match the strength of the “Phantom Finn.” In four months, Nurmi traveled over 30,000 miles by car and train to attend all of his scheduled races and and exhibitions at schools and military barracks. Americans were obsessed with the Flying Finn. Even President Calvin Coolidge wanted to meet the lifelong vegetarian! Despite all his appearances, Nurmi never did an interview with press. He was known in his Finland home as the “Great Silent One.” His congratulatory speech at the end of his US Tour, was a mere “Thank You.”
Nurmi would return to the Olympics in Antwerp in 1928, where he would take Gold in the 10,000 meters and Silver in the 5000 meters and the 3000 meter Steeplechase. He would return to the United States for a second tour in 1929.
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