Hey Michael Phelps – Don’t Forget About Paavo Nurmi

Paavo Nurmi and Tom Humbarger

Paavo Nurmi and Tom Humbarger

Dear Michael,

Please don’t forget about Paavo Nurmi!

Congratulations on winning your 8 Gold medals this year and on your 14 total Gold medals.  It’s definitely been an exciting Olympics this year.  With all of the hype and hoopla around you and your record-setting achievements at the Beijing Olympics and your comparisons to Mark Spitz, I wanted to remind you about the greatest runner in Olympic track and field.

Paavo Nurmi (1987-1973), known as one of the Flying Finns, won a total of 9 Gold and 3 Silver medals in the 1920, 1924 and 1928 Olympics in distances ranging from 1500 meters to 20 kilometers.  He set 25 world records during his career including one for the 10000 meters in 1924 that lasted for 13 years.

In 1925, Paavo toured America and competed in 55 events, winning 53 of them over the course of 5 months.

Paavo planned to run in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles to compete in the 10000 meters and marathon, but was barred from running after being branded as a professional in a move conducted by some Swedish Olympic officials.  This was unfortunate because the rules around professionalism were much stricter in 1932 and Paavo claims he would have won the marathon by 5 minutes.

Paavo was a vegetarian and one of the first athletes to bring systematic approach to training which I am sure you could appreciate.  He always trained with a stopwatch in his hands.

In later life, Paavo ran a haberdashery store and lit the Olympic flame for the 1954 Olympics held in Helsinki.  When he died in 1973, he was honored with a state funeral.

I visited Helsinki in 1998 and had my picture taken in front of the Paavo Nurmi statue at the Olympic Park.  If you ever get a chance to visit Helsinki, I hope you take time to pay homage to Paavo.  In Finland, they have a term called sisu which is roughly translated as “strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity”.  You definitely share the sense of sisu with Paavo.

And good luck in the 2012 Olympics in London…




2 thoughts on “Hey Michael Phelps – Don’t Forget About Paavo Nurmi

  1. Hello Tom – my Google alerts on iRise took me to your musings. Great find for me. I love it! Let’s stay in touch. Call me let’s talk iRise. I am still a shareholder.

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