Flying Finn Ritola signs off with fifth gold
Ville, or Willie, Ritola unfortunately played second fiddle during one of the greatest dynasties Olympic track and field has ever witnessed.
Much like the Kenyans and Ethiopians dominate distance running now, in the 1920s success in the longer events was the sole preserve of the Finns.
At the forefront of that success was the inimitable Paavo Nurmi -– whose record of nine golds stood until American swimmer Michael Phelps finally broke it – and Ritola had to long live in the shadow of his legendary countryman.
Ritola had a commanding Olympic record; four years earlier at the Games in Paris he won four golds and two silvers and his tally would have been better but for the ever-present Nurmi.
He finished runner-up to his fellow Finn in the 5,000m and the cross country but shattered his own world record in winning the 10,000m by a huge distance.
Four years later and again the medals were expected to be shared between the two team mates. Nurmi won his ninth and last gold medal in a scintillating 10,000m with Ritola clinging on until a burst down the home straight sent Nurmi past the tape about two metres clear.
Then in the 5,000m, Ritola was eager for revenge and it proved to be a highly tactical race in front of a packed, expectant crowd at the Olympic Stadium.
Nurmi upped the pace at halfway and most of the field were lagging badly. Ritola and Swede Edvin Wide kept up with the Finn and as the event entered the final 400m it was a three-horse race.
But with Ritola at the front, his head ducking inside to catch a glimpse of Nurmi on his shoulder, the decisive break came with 150 metres to go.
Ritola burst clear and Nurmi immediately glanced back to ensure his silver was safe knowing his countryman’s burst of speed had put the gold beyond him.