120 years, 120 stories (Part 26) : The golden story of the Flying Finn, Paavo Nurmi


“Can someone be this good?” These were the exact lines, when Paavo Nurmi snatched his 5th gold medal with ease at Paris. Yes, you have heard it correct. Someone did bag 5 gold medals in single Olympic in track events only and it was none other than the flying Finn, Paavo Nurmi.

In a country, where running is not the first choice of sports, he excelled with flying colours and that too on the biggest stage – The Olympics.

Paavo Nurmi was never lucky. He was born in a very poor family and was the eldest of the five children. So, education was just a luxury and soon it was cut short just at the age of 12.
In a article it was written, “He was brought up on a diet of black bread and dried fish, with fresh meat and fruit as a very occasional treat. To get to school he had to walk many miles each day in summer; in the winter, when snow lay deep, the journey was made upon skis.”

So, the struggle in the childhood made him strong. He was born and built with some qualities that helped him achieve success and it was sheer determination and hard work. The hard work really paid off in Antwerp.

But the start was not smooth for Nurmi. He was leading in the 5,000 meter race with one lap to go and he saw his opponent get past him with 100 meters to go. He was forced to settle for a silver. Others would have been devastated to see their hard work go in vain. But he was no other man and what he did after that was incredible.

He lost another race in Olympics too. But in the mean time he had good 8 years and 9 gold medals in the bag.

In Paris, 1924, the team doctors advised him not to take part in the 10,000 meter race as they were concerned about his health. Some might have taken their advice, but Nurmi got angry and decided to take part. He just could not stop at winning the gold at that event, but he did also made a world record that was not broken for over 13 years.


Nurmi was a bit mad too. He measured his new born son’s feet and was not satisfied with it’s length. After separation with Paavo, his wife said, “He wanted the boy to become a runner, but I am fiercely opposed to that. Paavo even tried to arrange the boy’s food so that Matti should be strengthened for athletics, but those feet have not stretched at all.”

1924 Paris Olympics was owned by the legend. The crowd was stunned as Nurmi broke records to register medals after medals. In one review some one wrote that, “He ran like there is no tomorrow. But the main thing is he had no fear.”

Paavo Nurmi stopped after 3 Olympics, 9 gold and 3 silver – A record that any Olympian would be proud of. He listened to himself and trained like no one else. His regime was so hard that some denied to believe it.

The dominant Czech runner of the 40s and 50s,  Emil Zatopek, used to shout “I am Nurmi! I am Nurmi!” whenever he tried to push himself more during the training and get the edge over opponents.

Still today, there might remain some athletes who might idolize Nurmi and shout “I am Nurmi!”. But there was and always will be only one Paavo Nurmi.

Photo by raygunb