- 27 Jul 08, 06:00 AM
In the early part of the 20th Century, Finland dominated distance running with Hannes Kolehmainen starting the gold rush at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.
And it was Kolehmainen's performances, in winning the 5,000m, 10,000m and individual cross country titles, while picking up a silver in the team cross country, that inspired Paavo Nurmi to take up running.
What Nurmi went on to achieve in the 1920s beggars belief - he competed at three Games, winning nine golds and three silvers in the 12 events he entered.
It was all down to his systematic approach to training. He was one of the few athletes to adopt such methods as calisthenics, while building his stamina through walking and running great distances.
He trained with a stopwatch to help him measure his pace and even competed with one in his hand.
Nurmi's first Olympic final was over 5,000m, but he was beaten into second place by France's Joseph Guillemot - it was the only time he would lose an Olympic final to non-Finnish runner.
Guillemot then threw up on Nurmi's shoes after the Finn beat him to the 10,000m title in a time of 31 minutes, 45.8 seconds - one minute better than his previous best.
And he capped a remarkable first Games by winning the cross country individual race to help Finland win the team event.
But it was his exploits in Paris four years later that would elevate Nurmi from simply great to legendary.
He had hoped to defend his 10,000m title, but Finnish officials refused to enter him in the event, which was won by compatriot, and third member of the Flying Finns, Ville Ritola.
After the Games an angry Nurmi made his point by setting a 10,000m world record that would last for almost 13 years.
Back in France, he coasted to the 1500m title, before moving straight on to the 5,000m and when I straight on, I mean straight on - the final was around an hour after the 1500m race.
Ritola, who had also won the 3,000m steeplechase, was his main rival and the pair thrilled the crowds as they dominated the race, but Nurmi held off a spirited charge from his team-mate to win by one metre.
Cross country individual and team golds followed as Nurmi destroyed the field to win by 90 seconds on a blisteringly hot day - only 15 of the 38 starters completed the course and of those that did, eight were taken away on a stretcher.
Nurmi's haul of five gold medals was won in the space of just six days and it could well have been six titles had he been allowed to compete in the 10,000m.
On the opening day of the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, Nurmi again made a point in the 10,000m sprinting past Ritola on the final stretch to win his ninth and final gold.
Ritola hit back in the 5,000m to hand Nurmi his first defeat at the Olympics for eight years and the pair met again for a third time in the 3,000m steeplechase final.
Nurmi had only run a couple of steeplechases before and was only doing so at the Olympics because the cross country race had been dropped and he missed out on selection for the 1500m.
In his heat, Nurmi's spikes stuck in the barrier causing him to twist and fall heavily in the water, hurting his hip and foot. France's Lucien Duquesne fished him out and they both qualified for the final.
Finland's steeplechase specialist Toivo Loukola won the title, with an exhausted Nurmi finishing second ahead of team-mate Ove Andersen.
Nurmi was all set to appear at a fouth Games in Los Angeles in 1932, but he was suspended from competing following accusations of professionalism in an era when amateurism ruled the Olympics.
Only three other Olympians have equalled his tally of nine gold medals, but none of them competed in endurance events - Ritola's haul of five golds and three silvers is the next best by an athlete.
Nurmi also set over 20 world records at every distance from 1500m up to 20,000m and numerous unofficial world records indoors.
And he delighted his adoring fans one last time at the opening ceremony of the 1952 Helsinki Games when he was the surprise torch bearer who entered the stadium to light the Olympic flame.
But where does he rank for you, not just in terms of distance running, but Olympic greatness?
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