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During the 1920s Paavo Nurmi and Ville Ritola awed the sporting world with their domination of long-distance running.

Finnish duels

At the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, Ritola put on an incredible performance, winning four gold medals and two silver medals. In his first race, the 10,000m, he won by half a lap and obliterated his own world record by more than 12 seconds. Three days later, he won the steeplechase by 75 metres. The next day he finished second behind Nurmi in the 5,000m. Next he earned another silver medal behind Nurmi in the cross-country race and gained a gold medal as a member of the Finnish cross-country team. Finally, Ritola joined with Nurmi to win the 3,000m team race.

A victory by 12 meters

In 1928, at the Olympic Games in Amsterdam, Ritola placed second - behind Nurmi - in the 10,000m. His last Olympic appearance was in the 5,000m. This time Ritola pulled away from Nurmi in the final curve and won by 12 metres. This victory brought Ritola's career total to five gold medals and three silver medals.



play Finn Ritola signs off with fifth gold/ritola_ ville_1928s_,0200,0400,0600,1200,1800,2500,3500,4500,6500,8500,.mp4.csmil/master.m3u8

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.



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Amsterdam 1928 - Ritola Ville

Ritola Ville - Finland - 5000m - Athletics - Amsterdam 1928
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Three Athletes

29th July 1928: Finnish athletes Paavo Nurmi, Ville Ritola and Edvin Wide of Sweden in the 10,000 metre race at the Amsterdam Olympics (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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Paris 1924 - Ritola Ville

Paris 1924 - Ritola Ville


  • Games
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    5000m men
    S 30:19.4
    10000m men
  • G 30:23.2
    10000m men
    G 8 P.
    3000m team men
    S 34:19.4
    cross country individual men
    G 11 P.
    cross country team men
    G 9:33.6
    3000m steeplechase men
    S 14:31.4
    5000m men

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