How are you related to Paavo Nurmi?

Connect to the World Family Tree to find out

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!

Paavo Johannes Nurmi

Birthplace: Jarrumiehenkatu 4 as 17, Turku, Finland
Death: October 02, 1973 (76)
Helsinki, Finland
Place of Burial: Turku, Finland
Immediate Family:

Son of Johan Fredrik Nurmi and Matilda Vilhelmiina Nurmi
Ex-husband of Sylvi Nurmi
Ex-partner of Irja Ilona Kytö
Father of Matti Johannes Nurmi
Brother of Vilhelmiina Siiri Nurmi; Siiri Vilhelmina Nurmi; Saara Matilda Siivonen; Martti Nikolai Nurmi and Saga Lahja Nurmi

Occupation: Koneteknikko, Rakennusurakoitsija, Liikemies, Olympic winner, businessman, kestävyysjuoksija, liikemies
Managed by: Riitta Aaltonen
Last Updated:

About Paavo Nurmi

Paavo Nurmi one of the original Flying Finns is, arguably, the greatest track & field athlete of all times.

Nurmi was a Finnish middle-distance and long-distance runner. He dominated distance running in the early 20th century. Nurmi set 22 official world records at distances between 1500 metres and 20 kilometres, and won nine gold and three silver medals in his twelve events in the Olympic Games. At his peak, Nurmi was undefeated for 121 races at distances from 800 m upwards. Throughout his 14-year career, he remained unbeaten in cross country events and the 10,000 m.

The Olympic Games

In Antwerp, 1920 he scored three gold medals. He took his first medal by finishing second to Frenchman Joseph Guillemot in the 5000 m. This would remain the only time that Nurmi lost to a non-Finnish runner in the Olympics. He went on to win gold medals in his other three events: the 10,000 m, sprinting past Guillemot on the final curve and improving his personal best by over a minute, the cross country race, beating Sweden's Eric Backman, and the cross country team event where he helped Heikki Liimatainen and Teodor Koskenniemi defeat the British and Swedish teams.

In Paris, 1924, he scored five gold medals. Given his dominance, the French had set the 1500 m and 5000 m runs just two hours apart. Nurmi won the both, breaking world record for the both runs. He also won the 3000 m race, as well as the race for individual cross county, and also the team cross country with his fellow Finns. In a heat of 45 °C (113 °F).

At the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, Nurmi competed in three events. He won the 10,000 m race. Before the 5000 m final, Nurmi injured himself in his qualifying heat for the 3000 m steeplechase. He fell on his back at the water jump, spraining his hip and foot. Lucien Duquesne stopped to help him up, and Nurmi thanked the Frenchman by pacing him past the field and offered him the heat win, which Duquesne gracefully refused. By the end of the race, Nurmi, looking more exhausted than ever before, only barely managed to keep Wide behind and take silver. Nurmi had little time to rest or nurse his injuries as the 3000 m steeplechase started the next day. Struggling with the hurdles, Nurmi let Finland's steeplechase specialist Toivo Loukola escape into the distance. On the final lap, he sprinted clear of the others and finished nine seconds behind the world-record setting Loukola; Nurmi's time also bettered the previous record, he won silver.

Towards Los Angeles

With the Summer Olympics of 1932 in Los Angeles approaching, things, for Nurmi, looked just fine. On 26 June 1932 Nurmi started his first marathon at the Olympic trials. Not drinking a drop of liquid, he ran the old-style 'short marathon' of 40.2 km (25 miles) in 2:22:03.8 - on the pace to finish in about 2:29:00, just under Albert Michelsen's marathon world record of 2:29:01.8.

Then Sweden happened. Less than three days before the 10,000 m, a special commission of the IAAF, barred him from competing in Los Angeles. This was due to the Swedes' claims, serious at the time, that Nurmi was a pro. The AP called this "one of the slickest political manoeuvres in international athletic history", and wrote that the Games would now be "like Hamlet without the celebrated Dane in the cast." As a consequence, Finns charged that the Swedish officials had used devious tricks in their campaign against Nurmi's amateur status, and ceased all athletic relations with Sweden, including the annual competitions between the two countries, until after the end of the World War 2.

Finland gets even

Back in 1628, the new Flagship of the Royal Swedish Navy, Vasa, set on her Maiden Voyage on 10 August 1628. And sunk right away on the harbour of Stockholm fading into obscurity. It was located again only in the late 1950s. This gave an idea for some members of the Diving Club of the students of Helsinki University of Technology... In April 1961 the ship was finally rescued, and Vasa posed an unprecedented challenge for archaeologists. One item found on the wreck was a statue of a runner, assumed to be of Greek origin... And later discovered to be a statue of Paavo Nurmi. As far as student pranks go, that one is hard to beat.

// maritime archeologists baffled by Nurmi statue in 1961...

Nurmi's Legacy

Nurmi broke 22 official world records on distances between 1500 m and 20 km; a record in running. He also set many more unofficial ones for a total of 58. His indoor world records were all unofficial as the IAAF did not ratify indoor records until the 1980s. Nurmi's record for most Olympic gold medals was matched by gymnast Larisa Latynina in 1964, swimmer Mark Spitz in 1972 and fellow track and field athlete Carl Lewis in 1996, and broken by swimmer Michael Phelps in 2008. Nurmi's record for most medals in the Olympic Games stood until Edoardo Mangiarotti won his 13th medal in fencing in 1960. Time Magazine selected Nurmi as the greatest Olympian of all time in 1996, and IAAF named him among the first twelve athletes to be inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame in 2012.

// 2011 marked 50 years since Vasa. Harri Leppanen remembers.


About Paavo Nurmi (suomi)

Urheilija, juoksijalegenda, olympiavoittaja 9 kultamitalia

Autio, Veli-Matti: Nurmi, Paavo. Kansallisbiografia-verkkojulkaisu. Studia Biographica 4. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 1997– (viitattu 28.3.2021) Julkaisun pysyvä tunniste URN:NBN:fi-fe20051410; artikkelin pysyvä tunniste (ISSN 1799-4349, verkkojulkaisu)

view all

Paavo Nurmi's Timeline

June 13, 1897
Jarrumiehenkatu 4 as 17, Turku, Finland
November 14, 1932
Turku, Finland
October 2, 1973
Age 76
Helsinki, Finland
October 11, 1973
Age 76
Turun Uusihautausmaa, Turku, Finland