Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek, Carl Lewis and Usain Bolt are the pre-eminent athletes in Olympic history.
Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek, Carl Lewis and Usain Bolt are the pre-eminent athletes in Olympic history. But the Games aren’t only about the quartet; read on to find out more about athletes who made a name for themselves on the grandest stage of all.
Hannes Kolehmainen: Nurmi was widely acclaimed as the Flying Finn for his Olympic exploits that culminated in nine gold medals over three Games. But the original Flying Finn was Kolehm-ainen who nailed gold in the 5,000m, 10,000m and individual cross country at the 1912 Stockholm Games. The Finnish pioneer was the first man to run the 5,000m under 15 minutes.
If not for the cancellation of the 1916 Games owing to World War I, Kolehmainen would have become one of the most decorated athletes in Olympic history.
Ville Ritola: Another Finnish long-distance giant whose achievements were overshadowed by Nurmi was Ritola, the winner of five gold and three silver in 1924 and 1928. Ritola was one of the stars of the Paris Games as he broke his 10K record by 12 seconds and finished ahead of the silver medallist by half a lap. He bowed out of the Olympics with a fine win over his illustrious countryman, Nurmi, in the 5,000m at Amsterdam.
Lasse Viren: He was the distance king in the 70s. Although Viren hardly set the track on fire in between the Olympics, he was a different athlete at the Games. The Finn nailed the 5,000m and 10,000m double in Munich despite a fall midway through the longer race. Astoundingly, he managed to retain both the titles four years later. Viren always reserved his best for the Olympics but his detractors maintained that blood doping propelled him to four gold medals in two Games.
Peter Snell: He is still the most successful New Zealander in Olympic athletics. After taking the 800m gold as a virtually unknown entity in 1960. Snell, who always wore an all-black attire, clinched gold in the 800m and 1,500m at Tokyo. He was the first to do the middle distance double after Albert Hill in 1920.
Alberto Juantorena: The Cuban blazed a trail in 1976 and no one has emulated him till today. Juantorena bagged the 400m and 800m double to become the first Cuban and non-English speaking athlete to win at either distance. It was a remarkable achievement because the races required totally different set of skills because one was a sprint and the other was middle distance. Juantorena said he owed his 800m world record of 1:43.50 seconds at Montreal to the pace set by India’s Sriram Singh who finished seventh in the race. Sriram’s 1:45.77 is still a national record.