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Amsterdam 1928: 10 000 metres final

Sunday July 29th 10 000 metres Final: GOLD MEDAL

The Olympic 10 000-metre final takes place on the opening day of the track and field competitions. There were no qualifying heats. Joie Ray of the United States is the first pace-setter; Paavo Nurmi and Ville Ritola both keep their heads. After 1500 metres Ritola moves up front and is followed by Nurmi and Edvin Wide. At the half-way point these three have already developed a hundred-meter lead to the others. After 6500 metres Wide falls behind, and the rest of the race is once more a duel between Nurmi and Ritola. Ritola leads all the time, but Nurmi keeps close with ease. Coming to the home stretch Nurmi makes his move from the outside. Ritola tries to answer, but Nurmi’s sprint is faster. Nurmi reaches the goal line 2.5 meters ahead of Ritola. 45 seconds later Wide finishes for the bronze medal. Nurmi’s time of 30.18,8 is twelve seconds slower than his own world record.

Tuesday July 31st 5000 metres, Qualifying Heat

Four fastest runners qualify for the final, and Paavo Nurmi only wants spare his strength. After 3000 metres a leading group of four is already clear. Macauley Smith of the USA is allowed to win the race, with Edvin Wide finishing second. Nurmi is pipped at the goal line by Britain’s Herbert Johnston as well and finishes in fourth place, which actually is his worst Olympic result. Behind Nurmi, Kohn of Germany takes a fierce final sprint and finishes within three metres of the champion.

Wednesday August 1st 3000 meters Steeplechase, Qualifying Heat

Nurmi did not qualify for the Finnish team in the 1500 metres, and the cross-country race has been removed from the Olympic program. Instead, Nurmi decides to enter the steeplechase even though he has tried the event only twice in his life. The first water jump of the heat proves almost fatal. Nurmi’s spike cuts into the wooden hurdle, he spins, falls on his back into the deepest part of the water pool and sprains his hip and foot. Lucien Duquesne of France stops to help Nurmi up. In gratitude Nurmi then paces the Frenchman past the rest of the field. In the final stretch Nurmi offers to let him win the heat, but Duquesne gracefully refuses and crosses the goal line behind the champion.

Amsterdam 1928: Loukola, Nurmi and Ritola preparing for the 3000 meters steeplechase final

Friday August 3rd 5000 metres Final: SILVER MEDAL

Both Finnish favourites carry injuries from the steeplechase heats. Paavo Nurmi’s left hip is almost numb and Ville Ritola has sprained his ankle. After two laps Nurmi moves up front and Ritola follows, clearly in pain. Nurmi’s pace causes no problems for the rest of the field, however, and at half-way point Ritola takes the lead and picks up speed with a painful grin. One kilometre to go, Edvin Wide and Leo Lermond of the United States still trail Ritola and Nurmi, but when Ritola makes his move 600 metres from the finish, only Nurmi follows. Everyone now expect another sprint victory for Nurmi. Coming to the final stretch, Nurmi duly launches his attack. But Ritola develops a fierce sprint and to general surprise pulls away to victory. In the final metres Nurmi even has to fight for the silver, barely beating Wide by a metre. After the race Nurmi sits on the grass for a long time nursing his sore hip. Never before has he looked so tired.

Saturday August 4th 3000 metres Steeplechase Final: SILVER MEDAL

Paavo Nurmi and Ville Ritola start with no great expectations: both are worn by their injuries and the gruelling 5000-meter-race of the previous day. Nurmi, still in pain, has trouble negotiating the hurdles but picks up pace between them. Finns have a well-planned team strategy for the race. After 2000 metres Toivo Loukola, their leading steeplechase specialist, makes an attack and develops a 30-meter gap to the rest of the field which is led by Nurmi. The French and the Americans keep monitoring Nurmi who makes no move to catch Loukola. Quite the opposite, Nurmi keeps the pace down and just concentrates on fending off foreign opposition, thus giving his countryman a safe passage to gold medal. In the final lap Nurmi then leaves the pack behind, and when Ove Andersen does the same in the home stretch, Finland sweeps all three medals. Loukola’s winning time is a new unofficial world record. Nurmi loses nine seconds to him, but his time of 9:30.8 is also better than the previous world best mark.