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Paavo Johannes Nurmi ( ) (13 June 1897 – 2 October 1973) was a Finnishmarker runner. Born in Turkumarker, he was known as one of the "Flying Finns"; a term given to him, Hannes Kolehmainen, Ville Ritola and others for their distinction in running. During the 1920s, Nurmi was the best middle and long distance runner in the world, setting world records at distances between 1500 m and 20 km.

Nurmi won a total of nine gold and three silver medals in the 12 events in which he competed at the Olympic Games from 1920 to 1928. In 1932, Nurmi was unable to compete at the Olympics, as he had received money for his running and was thus considered a professional.

Career

Olympic career

Nurmi debuted at the 1920 Summer Olympics by competing in four events. He won three gold medals: the 10,000 m, the cross country event and the cross country team event, and finished second in the 5000 m.

In 1924, he won five gold medals in five events, including the 1500 m, 5000 m (with only 26 minutes between the final races; as a try out he had broken the world record in both of these events earlier the same year, the 3000 m team race, and again both cross country events. It was the last time these cross country events were held, as the great heat caused more than half of the competitors to abandon the race, and many more had to be taken to hospital. Finnish officials, fearing for his health, refused to enter Nurmi in the 10,000 m event. Thus, he was unable to defend his title. An angry Nurmi protested after returning to Finland by setting a 10,000 m world record that would last for almost 13 years.

Nurmi ended his Olympic career at the 1928 Summer Olympics, winning the 10,000 m and two silver medals (5000 m and 3000 m steeplechase).

Nurmi has won the most Olympic medals in Track & Field, 12 total. He ties Larissa Latynina, Mark Spitz, and Carl Lewis with nine Olympic gold medals, second only to Michael Phelps with fourteen. Due to this fact, he is often considered the greatest Track & Field athlete of all time.

During his competitive running career, which lasted from about 1919 to 1934, Nurmi earned a reputation for speaking very little off the track. An illustration of this was his two-word reply to a congratulatory speech during his 1925 tour of the United States: "Thank you!". In contrast to another famous early 20th-century Finnish Olympic running champion, Hannes Kolehmainen, he also rarely smiled in public. No wonder he was nicknamed "A Great Silent One" (Suuri vaikenija) by some contemporary Finns (see, for example,Antero Raevuori, "Paavo Nurmi: The King of Runners" / Paavo Nurmi: Juoksijoiden kuningas, published in Finland in the late 1980s).

Nurmi was a vegetarian from the age of 12.

Later life

Nurmi continued to run after the Olympics in Amsterdammarker with every intent to compete in the 10,000 m and marathon events at the 1932 Summer Olympics, but he was branded a professional and barred from running in Los Angelesmarker. The main conductors of the ban were the Swedishmarker officials, especially Sigfrid Edström, the president of the IAAF and vice-president of the IOCmarker. Edström claimed that Nurmi had received too much money for his travel expenses to a meet in Germanymarker. This was seen as jealousy by many in Finland and in part led to Finland refusing to participate in the traditional Finland-Sweden international athletics event Suomi-Ruotsi-maaottelu or Finnkampen until 1939 (see Raevuori, "Paavo Nurmi").

However, Nurmi did travel to Los Angeles and kept training at the Olympic Village. Despite pleas from all the entrants of the marathon, Nurmi was not allowed to compete at the Games. Although he had suffered from injuries, he claimed he would have won the marathon by five minutes after the event was over. He had set his heart on ending his career with a marathon gold medal, as his fellow countryman Hannes Kolehmainen had done shortly after the First World War (see Raevuori, "Paavo Nurmi").

A Finnish national hero, Paavo Nurmi was the lighter of the Olympic Flame at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinkimarker. In retirement he ran a haberdashery store in Helsinki, and owned a housing construction company which built several houses and apartment buildings around Helsinki (see Raevuori, "Paavo Nurmi").

Nurmi had a brief marriage with Sylvi Nurmi, from 1932 to 1935. Their son Matti was a Finnish national-level middle-distance runner in the 1950s. Nurmi was a loner for much of his life, and apparently he either was scared of too close friendships or had a too inflexible character for them.

A widely publicized practical joke by students at the Helsinki University of Technologymarker took place in 1961, when a team of students smuggled a statue of Nurmi onto the 300-year-old wreck of the Swedish Regalskeppet Vasamarker just days before its lifting from the bottom of the sea

In his final years, starting around 1967, when he allowed the Finnish President Urho Kekkonen (a personal and sports friend)to interview him for his 70th birthday over the Finnish Public Radio YLE, Nurmi gave more newspaper and magazine interviews. Suffering from health problems especially since the late 1960s, with at least one heart attack, a stroke and failing eyesight, he at times spoke bitterly about sports, calling it a waste of time compared to science and art (see Raevuori, "Paavo Nurmi"). Nurmi died in 1973 in Helsinki and was given a state funeral.

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