News02 Sep 2023

'Flying Finn' Kolehmainen honoured with Heritage Plaque in Stockholm


Hannes Kolehmainen

At a ‘Stadion Walk of Fame’ ceremony today (2) at the 1912 Olympic Stadium, the career of Hannes Kolehmainen, the first of the ‘Flying Finns’, was celebrated with the award of the World Athletics Heritage Plaque and his induction into the walk of fame.

The ceremony was organised by the Swedish Central Association for the Promotion of Athletics (SCIF).

SCIF and World Athletics Heritage & the Museum of World Athletics (MOWA) last year signed a MoU that aims to celebrate and honour athletics history. 

The plaque, which was awarded to Kolehmainen (1889-1966) in the posthumous category of ‘Legend’, was presented to SCIF President Rajne Soderberg by World Athletics Council Member Antti Pihlakoski. The plaque will be unveiled in its permanent location at the stadium in the spring of 2024.

The Hannes Kolehmainen Heritage Plaque is presented to Rajne Soderberg by Antti Pihlakoski

The Hannes Kolehmainen Heritage Plaque is presented to Rajne Soderberg by Antti Pihlakoski

“Kolehmainen follows Nurmi as the second Finnish athlete to be honoured by a World Athletics Heritage Plaque,” said Pihlakoski. “There can be no more appropriate place for this location-based award than Stockholm’s Olympic stadium where Kolehmainen first became a star.”

The World Athletics Heritage Plaque is a location-based recognition, awarded for an outstanding contribution to the worldwide history and development of the sport of track and field athletics and of out-of-stadia athletics disciplines such as cross country, mountain, road, trail and ultra-running, and race walking.

Close finish

Juho Pietari "Hannes" Kolehmainen was born in Kuopio, Finland.

He won the 5000m and 10,000m track double at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, and took gold in the individual cross country and a silver medal in the team category.

Most notably the Finn beat France's Jean Bouin in an epic 5000m, winning by barely half a metre. Kolehmainen’s time of 14:36.6 was not only the first mark under 15 minutes over 5000m, but the inaugural ratified world record. Kolehmainen set a total of six ratified world record times in his career.

Hannes Kolehmainen in Stockholm

Hannes Kolehmainen in Stockholm

Kolehmainen ran the 1920 Olympic marathon in Antwerp, Belgium. He entered the stadium with a 70m advantage over Estonian Yuri Lossman, which he held to the finish, winning the gold in 2:32:35.8.

In 1921, Kolehmainen, who was based in the USA and was a member of the Finnish American Athletics Club, became a US citizen. In 1952, along with Paavo Nurmi, he lit the flame at the Helsinki Olympic Games opening ceremony. He lived the last years of his life back in Finland, dying in Helsinki in 1966.

Peter Bostrom, the son of Kolehmainen's daughter, attended today’s ceremony.

Kolehmainen, Nurmi, Viren and Gentzel join the Walk of Fame

Today in Stockholm, Kolehmainen was also honoured, along with fellow Finnish distance running legends Nurmi and Lasse Viren and Sweden’s Inga Gentzel, in the ‘Stadion Walk of Fame’, which is located on the public concourse outside the Olympic stadium.

Among others, this quartet of running stars join Eric Lemming and Jim Thorpe, whose stones in the Walk of Fame and World Athletics Heritage Plaques were unveiled last September.

Nurmi (1897-1973), who won nine Olympic gold medals and three silvers during the Antwerp 1920, Paris 1924 and Amsterdam 1928 Olympic Games and set 22 ratified world records, was the world’s first sports star. He has had an opera, “Paavo the Great. Great Race. Great Dream” and an asteroid that orbits the Sun (1740 Paavo Nurmi) named in his honour.

Viren, who, along with his wife Paivi, was one of the guests of honour at today’s ceremony, won Olympic 5000m and 10,000m doubles at both the Munich 1972 and Montreal 1976 Olympics. He also finished fifth in the 1976 marathon, the nearest anyone has come to matching Emil Zatopek’s Olympic triple of 1952.

Gentzel (1908-1991), who set a short-lived 800m world record prior to the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, took the bronze medal in those Games. She was beaten by Lina Radke in that race, losing her world record to the German in the process. The three children of Gentzel – Hillevi Dahlgren Hult, Carl-Einar Dahlgren and Gosta Dahlgren – were present at today's ceremony.

Chris Turner for World Athletics Heritage