The Record-Setting Day of the "Flying Finn"

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One of the most extraordinary sporting feats of all time came during on Jan. 6, 1925. Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi broke two world records in the space of an hour.

Nurmi, who was known as the "Flying Finn," was on a tour of the United States, his first appearance there. The year before, in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, Nurmi had won five gold medals. He had also set two straight Olympic records, both within an hour of each other. American promoters hoped for a repeat performance.

It all took place at Madison Square Garden, and fans packed the place. The two races he ran that day were the mile and the 5,000 meters (5K). The mile race came first, and it looked bad for Nurmi until he caught up to and passed his American competition in the last lap, setting a new indoor world record of 4:13.5. In the second race, it was another Finnish runner, Ville Ritola, who challenged Nurmi. But in the end, it was Nurmi again, winning and setting another indoor world record, with a time of 14:44.6.

Nurmi was such a hit that he got requests to run races all across America. During the next few months, he ran 55 races and won all but the last one, a half-mile sprint against American Alan Helffrich at Yankee Stadium.

All in all, Nurmi won nine Olympic gold medals, six individual. He also participated in the Olympics in 1920 and 1928. He also broke 23 world outdoor records in events ranging from 1,500 to 20,000 meters.

Interesting historical footnote: Nurmi often ran with a stopwatch in his hand, measuring his time. This practice was later adopted in the U.S. and gave way to the wristwatch that is so common on the arms of today's runners.

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