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Paavo Johannes Nurmi (Turku, Western Finland, June 13, 1897-Helsinki, Finland, October 2, 1973) was a Finnish athlete who specialized in medium and long distance races. Known as the “Flying Finn”, he dominated the athletic events of the early twentieth century. Nurmi established 22 official world records in distances ranging from 1500 meters to 20 kilometers and won a total of nine gold medals and three silver medals in the 12 Olympic events in which he participated. At his best, Nurmi successfully defended the title in the 800 meter tests and 121 races. In his 14-year career, he remained unbeaten in the cross country events and in the 10 000 meters.
Pertaining to a working family, Nurmi left school at the age of 12 to support her mother. In 1912, inspired by the Olympic feats of Hannes Kolehmainen, he began to develop a strict training program. Nurmi prospered during his military service, where he established national records on the road to his international debut at the Olympic Games in Antwerp 1920. After winning silver medal in the 5000 meters, he won in the 10 000 meters and in the field tests naughty. Three years later, Nurmi became the first and only runner to maintain the world record in the mile, the 5000 meters and the 10 000 meters at the same time. Established new Olympic records in the 1500 and 5000 meters with only one hour of rest between both races and, in Paris 1924, obtained the gold medals in both distances. Apparently unaffected by the heat wave in Paris, Nurmi won all his races and returned home with five gold medals, although resentful, since the Finnish officials prevented him from participating in the 10 000 meters.
Fighting injuries and motivational problems after his comprehensive tour of the United States in 1925, Paavo saw his rivals Ville Ritola and Edvin Wide become increasingly serious challenges. In the Olympic Games of Amsterdam 1928, Nurmi recaptured the title in the 10 000 meters, nevertheless, it was won in the 5000 and in the 3000 meters with obstacles. He then turned his attention to long distances, beating world records in events such as the hour and the 25-mile marathon. Although he sought to end his career with gold in the marathon, as his idol Kolehmainen had done, in a controversial case that tensed the relations between Finland and Sweden and that unleashed a series of problems with the International Association of Athletics Federations -IAAF- , Nurmi was suspended shortly before the Olympic Games in Los Angeles 1932. Two days before the opening ceremony, an IAAF council prevented him from participating. In 1934, his suspension became final and, finally, he chose to withdraw.
Subsequently, Paavo trained Finnish runners, raised funds for his country during the Winter War and worked as a mercer, contractor and investor, obtaining one of the largest fortunes in his country. In 1952, he lit the Olympic cauldron of the Olympic Games in Helsinki. His speed and elusive personality earned him nicknames such as “Finnish ghost”, while his achievements, training methods and running style influenced generations of back and midfielders. Nurmi, who rarely ran without a chronometer in his hand, is credited as introducing the technique of regular stride. He passed away on October 2, 1973 at 76 years of age.
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