Hakulinen maintains Olympic brilliance
Veikko Hakulinen had already raised eyebrows at the 1952 Olympic Winter Games in Oslo, claiming the Olympic 50km cross-country skiing title in a memorable time of 3:33:33, with an advantage of almost five minutes over fellow Finn Eero Kolehmainen.
He then went on to pick up four medals at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Falun in February 1954: gold in the 15km and 4x10km relay, and silver in the 30km and 50km. After twice prevailing at the Holmenkollen Ski Festival (1953 and 1955), he was awarded the prestigious Holmenkollen medal in 1955.
On an overcast and chilly 27 January 1956, the first day of competition in Cortina, the 31-year-old Hakulinen set off 52nd in the 30km, an event that was making its first appearance on the Olympic programme. One of the last favourites to head off from Snow Stadium, he found himself six seconds behind Sweden’s Sixten Jernberg’s time of 1.44:30 after 10km. At the 20km mark, the powerful Finn moved into the lead, with a four-second lead over his principal rival. He would stretch the gap to 24 seconds in the latter stages, crossing the line in a time of 1.44.06 to take the gold.
On 30 January, Hakulinen took fourth place in the 15km, won by Hallgeir Brenden (NOR), three days before attempting to secure an amazing long-distance double by defending his 50km title. It was not be, unfortunately; the irrepressible Jernberg instead led from start to finish, and despite remaining on his rival’s coattails for the majority of the race, as demonstrated by the losing margin of just one minute, Hakulinen was forced to settle for a silver medal.
Finally, on 4 February, another chance of glory presented itself in the 4x10km relay, in which Hakulinen would ski the anchor leg for Finland. Fedor Terentyev, Pavel Kolchin and Nikolay Anikin had built up a considerable lead for the Soviet team, but their anchor, Vladimir Kuzin, was forced to dig deep to hold off the challenge of Hakulinen, who had reduced the deficit to a minute by the time he crossed the line to collect a silver medal, his third of the Games.
At the 1958 Worlds in Lahti (FIN), he won the 15km, and finished second and third respectively in the 50km and the 4x10km, bringing his total medal haul at that level to seven. The 1960 Games in Squaw Valley followed, as did two further Olympic medals, a silver in the 50km and a bronze in the 15km.
By the time of the 1964 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Hakulinen was 39, but showed no intention of resting on his laurels. Instead he turned his attention to the biathlon, finishing in a creditable 15th place in the 20km. Equally adept at ski-orienteering and rowing, activities that he continued to enjoy at senior level, Hakulinen was tragically killed in a car accident in Finland on 24 October 2003.