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PAAVO NURMI AT THE OLYMPIC GAMES


ANTWERP 1920 PARIS >> AMSTERDAM >>



Monday, August 16th 5000 metres, Qualifying Heat

Paavo Nurmi makes his first Olympic appearance in a relaxed manner. Four runners will qualify for the final, and Nurmi just observes the situation calmly, making only casual visits to the front of the pack. In the final stretch he sprints effortlessly to second place five seconds behind Carlo Speroni of Italy and qualifies with ease.



Tuesday, August 17th 5000 metres Final: SILVER MEDAL

The final of the 5000 metres starts at 3.15 pm. The heat is intense. Nurmi has devised a bold strategy in order to exhaust the dangerous Swedes Eric Backman and Runar Falk in the first part of the course. After three laps Nurmi overtakes Speroni to take the lead and build more speed. Only the 20-year-old Frenchman Joseph Guillemot is able to follow him. The 3000-metre mark is passed two seconds faster than fellow Finn Hannes Kolehmainen did in his world record run at the Stockholm Olympic Games in 1912. Guillemot still refuses to yield, however, and Nurmi begins to lose heart. On the final curve the Frenchman moved to pass Nurmi on the outside. Unaccustomed to final stretch sprinting, Nurmi gives up completely and jogs to the finish line four seconds after the winner has broken the tape.



Thursday, August 19th 10 000 metres, Qualifying Heat

Nurmi’s only target in this race is to place with least possible effort among the five finalists. He succeeds in this by finishing in second place sixty metres behind the Scot James Wilson. The heat is the slowest of the qualifying competition.



Antwerpen 1920: 10 000 metres final

Friday, August 20th 10 000 metres Final: GOLD MEDAL

The race is put forward a couple of hours at the request of the King of Belgium. The defeat in the 5000 metres still burning in his mind, Paavo Nurmi has a new game plan. He runs up front in the first kilometres but then drops behind to stalk the fastest man of the qualifying heats, his fellow countryman Heikki Liimatainen. The latter is already worn out, however, and Nurmi sees the error of his strategy just in time. Together with Augusto Maccario of Italy Nurmi begins to close the gap to the leading duo, Joseph Guillemot and James Wilson. One kilometre to go Nurmi is back in the leading group. Entering the last lap, only Guillemot is left to fight with him. Nurmi now lets the Frenchman taste his own medicine. He slows down in the backstretch and allows Guillemot to take the lead – but then sweeps past him on the final curve and takes his first Olympic victory by a margin of seven or eight metres. Nurmi’s time of 31:45.8 is over a minute faster than his former personal best. Guillemot, who had eaten a substantial lunch just before the race unaware of the change of schedule, vomits on Nurmi’s shoes. Nurmi celebrates his first Olympic title in a way soon to be familiar: he simply leaves the arena showing no signs of emotion.



Monday, August 23rd Cross-country race, Individual: GOLD MEDAL, Team competition: GOLD MEDAL

The cross-country race is the last event in the Olympic track and field program. In the previous day Hannes Kolehmainen has won the gold medal in the marathon race. Most athletes are already packing their bags. The fight for points between nations is still going on, however, and with two sets of medals to be won, the Finnish team is under orders to take no prisoners. 51 men start the race on a cold and cloudy day. The course is eight kilometres and relatively flat. From the beginning the leading group contains all three favourites: Paavo Nurmi, Joseph Guillemot and Eric Backman of Sweden. Nurmi is now full of self-confidence and one by one others fall behind. Three kilometres to go Guillemot pulls aside having apparently injured his leg. Closing the Stadium, Nurmi has a 50-metre lead on Backman, but then allows the Swede to catch him. Backman enters the Stadium ahead, but 200 metres before the goal line Nurmi finishes him off with an easy sprint. Heikki Liimatainen takes the bronze medal, and when Teodor Koskenniemi crosses the goal line in sixth place Finland wins the team competition as well with 10 points, well ahead of Great Britain with 21 points and Sweden with 23.



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