- 29 Jul 1948
- London 1948
Three Finns tied for victory in the pommel horse – all of whom were awarded gold. No other medals were awarded. It was a remarkable clean sweep.
One of the all conquering Finnish trio was Heikki Savolainen. His age defied the convention that gymnastics is a young person's sport. Savolainen was 40 when he appeared at the London Olympics, an age when most gymnasts have long since retired, and certainly well past the date when they expect to be returning home with a gold medal. Yet Savolainen was driven by a hunger to succeed – this was his fourth Games, dating back to Amsterdam in 1928, and he had won a medal in each of the previous editions. He had a silver and four bronze medals, but not a gold. In 1948, he knew he had a fine chance to correct that – but also knew that his own team-mates would be his toughest competition in the individual event – as well as his greatest help in the team contest. And so it proved. In the pommel horse, the three Finns tied for victory but their individual excellence made the team a strong favourite in the team event. The Swiss did nearly pip them but both events did indeed produce gold medals for Savolainen.
You would imagine that after all those years of craving a gold medal he would have been satisfied. But it was not the case. The competitive streak in Savolainen remained strong, and he competed again in 1952, winning another bronze medal, this time in the team competition at the age of 44.
Another of the Finnish trio to tie for victory in the pommel horse was Veikko Huhtanen. He rose to the occasion at just the right moment. This was no mean achievement as he was not considered the best gymnast in Finland yet left the 1948 Olympic Games with no fewer than five medals. The achievement made him the outstanding gymnast of the competition. It was his consistency and versatility that so helped him.
Golds came in the men's all-round competition, as well as the team event. And, of course, there was the pommel horse in which he tied for first place. Huhtanen also won a silver medal in the parallel bars and a bronze in the horizontal bar. He only narrowly missed another bronze in the vault, yet still had the extraordinary feeling of returning home with five Olympic medals to his name, three of them gold.
Huhtanen was not able to replicate that amazing success again. His progress was hindered by a shoulder injury and he never recaptured the form he'd had in London. He was not even selected for the team in 1952 and decided then and there to retire from competitive gymnastics, although he did stay in the sport as a referee.
Paavo Aaltonen was the final member of the trio. At 28 and competing in his first Games, he would return home with four medals, three of them gold.
The pommel horse was the most memorable contest as Aaltonen, Veikko Huhtanen, and Heikki Savolainen all finished on 19.35 points, and all received a gold medal.
Aaltonen also took gold in the men's vault, and the all-round team, as well as bronze in the individual all-round. He returned to the Olympic Games four years later in Helsinki, where he won another medal, this time bronze, in the men's all-round team event.