NUMBER 3: Paavo Nurmi

Paavo Nurmi dominated Olympic competition during the 1920s in an unprecedented way. He won nine gold medals and three silver medals over the course of three Olympic competitions (Antwerp, Paris and Amsterdam).

In Paris, in 1924, Nurmi took gold in the individual and team XC events despite temperatures exceeding 110 degrees. He won the 1500m in 3:53.6 and came back 90 minutes later and won the 5000m in 14:31.2. Nurmi wanted to defend his 10,000m title as well, but Finnish officials would not allow it. Nurmi was not happy, as the 10,000m was his favorite event. He returned home and set a world record in the 10,000m (30:06.1) that lasted for nearly 13 years.

After setting the 10,000m world record, Nurmi held world records at 1500m, the mile, 3000m, 5000m and 10,000m. In fact, he is the only runner in history to simultaneously hold world records in the mile, 5000m and 10,000m.

Nurmi went on an American tour in 1925 where he competed in 55 races over the course of 5 months. He won 51 of the 55 races and set numerous records. At one sold out event in Madison Square Garden, Nurmi ran 4:13.5 for the mile (an indoor world record) and an hour later he ran 14:44.6 for 5000m (another indoor world record).

Nurmi was very popular in America, and from January 1925 to March 25 alone, the NY Times published over 70 articles on Nurmi’s US tour.

Notably, Paavo Nurmi may have been the first of many great Olympic athletes to practice a vegetarian diet.