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Ritola thrives in shadow of Nurmi

Ritola thrives in shadow of Nurmi

13/07/1924

Villa Ritola was an intrinsic part of the Finnish long-distance running dynasty that held sway at the Olympic Games of the 1920s.

He and Paavo Nurmi cut a swathe through the opposition, winning a clutch of gold medals in a period of dominance not seen again until African runners came to the fore decades later.

While the running machine Nurmi won nine gold medals at the 1920, 1924 and 1928 Games, Ritola’s statistics were no less impressive.

Ritola, a wiry, versatile runner, declined an offer to attend the 1920 Games in Antwerp but felt he was ready to compete at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris after a number of years training in the United States.

Ritola had already etched his name in the Olympic annals with a dashing victory in the 10,000m in a world-record time.

Next came the 3,000m steeplechase run over a fascinating course on a 500m circumference track in the French capital.

Instead of the barriers and water jumps of today runners were presented with a variety of challenges.

Some of the fences runners were required to jump more closely resembled the kind of obstacles you would see in a horse steeplechase with branches, twigs and leaves used to create the barriers.

There were also obstacles that looked like garden fences while the water jump was deep enough to reach most competitors’ knees and resulted in some chaotic tangles.

Ritola pretty much ran through any challenge thrown at him, however. After running the most gentle of semi-finals, he gritted his teeth and destroyed the field with a time of 9 minutes 33.6secs, a new Olympic record.

Ritola also contributed to gold medal wins for Finland in the 3,000m and cross country team events.

He was to add 5,000m gold in the Amsterdam Games four years later.

Discover the best photos of Paris 1924

  • Johnny Weissmuller (USA)

    A part of Hollywood legend for his role as Tarzan, Johnny Weissmuller was nonetheless an accomplished swimmer. At the Paris 1924 Games, he won gold in the 100m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay. We see him here after his 400m freestyle surrounded by his fellow medal-winners, Sweden’s Arne Borg (2nd, on the right) and the USA’s Andrew Charlton (3rd, on the left)
    ©IOC

  • Paavo Nurmi (FIN)

    Finnish athlete Paavo Nurmi won five gold medals at the Paris 1924 Games. He won the individual cross country, team cross country, the 1500m, 5000m and the team 3000m events. On 10 July 1924, he won the 1500m before victoriously taking gold, 55 minutes later (!) in the 5000m

    ©IOC

  • Winner’s medal Paris 1924

    The reverse of the medal is occupied by the representation of an athlete helping one of his opponents to stand. This motif thus perfectly illustrates the solidarity that we expect from any athletes taking part in the Olympic Games. Besides this, the Olympic rings appear for the first time on a medal (they are visible here on the upper part of the medal)
    ©IOC

  • Liddell Chaired

    18th July 1924: Eric Liddell (1902 - 1945), winner of the 400 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics, is paraded around Edinburgh University after his victory. He was known as the 'Flying Scotsman' and was immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire. (Photo by Firmin/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

  • Liddell Triumphant

    18th July 1924: Scottish athlete Eric Liddell (1902 - 1945) is paraded around Edinburgh University after winning the 400 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Eric Liddell, known as the 'Flying Scotsman' went to the Paris Olympics in 1924 as the favourite t

  • Eric Liddell

    Scottish athlete and missionary, Eric Henry Liddell (1902 -1945) being carried round the streets after his Olympic victory. Eric Liddell, known as the 'Flying Scotsman' went to the Paris Olympics in 1924 as the favourite to win the 100 metres race but refused to run because he felt that running on a Sunday conflicted with his Christian beliefs. He won a bronze medal in the 200 metres event instead and then ran the 400 metre race despite having little experience at the distance. He not only won the gold medal but broke the world record by completing the race in 47.6 seconds, an achievement which is celebrated in the 1981 film 'Chariots of Fire'. Liddell gained two degrees, one in science and the other in divinity, before leaving Britain to work as a Scottish Congregational Church missionary in China as his parents had before him. Original Publication: People Disc - HG0205 (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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