Winner of 12 Olympic Medals
. . . . Paavo Nurmi

Paavo Johannes Nurmi, born June 13,1897 at Turku, Finland and died seventy-six years later on October 2, 1973 at Helsinki Finland. He was the son of  Johan Fredrik Nurmi, carpenter, and Matilda Vilhelmina Laine.

Paavo Nurmi is considered the greatest runner of all time. He was known as "The King of Runners" or the "Flying Finn". Famous all over the world, Nurmi became an unending source of national pride for the newly independent Finland. Paavo Nurmi was driven by love of running. He had a burning will to succeed in life, and racing was his way to gain recognition from his fellow men and to fulfil the high standards he had set for himself. Martti Jukola, a famous Finnish sports journalist, wrote in 1935: "There was something inhumanly stern and cruel about him, but he conquered the world by pure means: with a will that had supernatural power." At three Olympic Games from 1920 to 1928 Nurmi won a total of twelve medals.  Nine gold and three silver. Three golds and one silver at Antwerp in 1920, five golds at Paris in 1924 and one gold and two silvers at Amsterdam in 1928.

Paavo Nurmi has been honoured in various ways. Several books and thousands of articles have been published about him in many countries. After the Paris Olympic Games in 1924 the Finnish Government ordered a statue of him from the most famous sculptor of the country, Wäinö Aaltonen. In 1952 two more copies of the statue were cast from the original mould: one was erected in front of the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, the other in Nurmi's home town, Turku. In 1983 the original statue, long kept at the National Art Museum, was placed in front of the Faculty of Physical Education of the University of Jyväskylä. In 1994 one more copy was cast and sent to the park of the Museum of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland. Medals and stamps have been issued and streets and even a small planet have been named in honour of Paavo Nurmi. In 1987 the Bank of Finland issued a new ten mark note featuring Paavo Nurmi on one side and the Olympic Stadium on the other, making, as far as is known, The Flying Finn the only specific Olympic athlete thus honoured by any nation of the world.

Is he the best known Finn of all time? Possibly not, but he is arguably the best known long distance runner of them all and to the people of Finland he was, and is, the man who ran their country on to the world map. That was in the 1920s, just a few years after Finland had gained independence and was strengthening its position among the free nations of the world. It was the decade when Paavo Nurmi dominated middle and long distance running
.
As an athlete Nurmi was ahead of his time: he trained with a dedication and intensity never previously seen. With stopwatch in hand he raised the quantity and quality of endurance training to levels that none of his contemporaries could equal. The result was that, apart from his Olympic victories, he set altogether 25 world records at distances from 1,500 metres to 20,000 metres in a career that
lasted at the highest level of athletics for some twelve years.

Nurmi was an introvert. To many observers he seemed bleak and remote, interested only in his running and ultimately dissatisfied with his achievements on the track. He wanted to leave behind something permanent and clearly did not share the view that records, as today's saying goes, are meant to be broken. But there was a twofold permanence to his achievements: in his day, he ran farther and faster and for more seasons than anyone else and, despite his apparent dislike of publicity, he came to be regarded as Finland's unofficial goodwill ambassador at a time when his country needed all the positive exposure it could get.

Paavo Nurmi died at Helsinki on the second of October, 1973. Obituaries all over the world praised his achievements. Marjatta Väänänen, the Finnish Minister of Education, said in her commemoration speech: "Records will be broken, gold medals lose their lustre, winners find their victors. As historical concept, Paavo Nurmi will never be beaten." On October 11th, 1973, Paavo Nurmi was given a state funeral. The ceremony took place in the Old Church of Helsinki. From there he was taken in a motorcade to his native Turku where he was buried in the family grave at the Old Cemetery.

Return To Your Previous Page