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28 Jul 1952
Helsinki 1952

Local heroes Wires and Hietenen thrill on way to kayak gold

Finnish kayakers Kurt Wires and Yrjo Hietanen delighted local crowds and served up some of Helsinki 1952’s most exciting and nailbiting moments.

The 33-year old Wires was a veteran of the sport, who had won silver in 1948 in the 10,000m kayak singles. Ahead of the 1952 Games he teamed up with Hietanen, a 25-year-old who was making his Olympic debut, to compete in the pairs.

Eighteen boats took to the start line for the 10,000m pairs, with Wires and Hietanen seizing the lead from the start. Yet they were never able to open up a decisive advantage, with the crews from Sweden, Hungary and Austria all keeping close tabs.

Those four boats dominated the second half of the race, with the Finns always out in front. In the closing stages the Hungarians and Austrians, battled each other for the bronze medal while the Finnish and Swedish boats jostled for victory.

As they crossed the line, there was only a boat-length to choose between them, but it was Wires and Hietanen who had held on by 0.4 seconds to take the gold.

The Finnish pair were back in action the following day, this time in the 1,000m sprint event. Once again they found themselves paired with the Swedes in the heat, although the latter fielded two fresh athletes, while Wires and Hietanen had to deal with the aches and pains inherited from their exertions 24 hours earlier.

Unsurprisingly, they conserved their energy in the heat, allowing the Swedes to win, but still qualifying comfortably. It was just as well, because in the final they would need every last drop of energy they could muster.

It proved to be a stunning race, with the top four finishers separated by just 0.7 seconds. At the line, the Finnish and Swedish boats appeared to be level, so a photo finish was required. After a tense wait, Wires and Hietanen were declared the winners, taking their second gold medal in the space of 24 hours. The pair's combined winning margin over two gruelling races was less than half a second.

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