Nurmi was part of a talented group of Finnish athletes who were nicknamed the ‘Flying Finns’. He made his Olympic debut at the 1920 Antwerp Games. He took the competition by storm winning gold medals in the 10,000m, the cross-country individual and team event. He also claimed a silver in the 5,000m.
At the 1924 Paris Games, Nurmi made history by becoming the first athlete ever to win five gold medals at a single Olympic Games. In the space of four astonishing days, Nurmi won the 1500m, the 5,000m, the 3,000m team event and the two cross-country events.
Nurmi had hoped to defend his 10,000m title, but Finnish officials, fearing for his health, refused to enter him in the event. Back in Finland, an angry Nurmi made his point by setting a 10,000m world record that would last for almost 13 years.
At the 1928 Amsterdam Games, Nurmi completed his Olympic career by winning the 10,000m and earning silver medals in the 5,000m and the steeplechase. By this time, Nurmi was so famous he was invited to become the main attraction in athletic meets worldwide. This prompted the IAAF to brand him a professional, causing him to miss out on the 1932 Olympic Games and a possible 10th gold medal.