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Inside the Games

Finland, the small country with big aims

Officially detached from Russian governance in 1917, Finland began to rewrite its own impressive sporting history by collecting a major haul of athletics titles in four consecutive Olympiads between 1912 and 1928.

The individual talents of Paavo Nurmi and Hannes Kolehmainen were supplemented by an impressive collective display.

Given permission to compete at the Games for the first time in 1908, following an earlier appearance at the intercalated Games in 1906, Finland was a leading light in athletics during the years 1912-1928, and was number one in the world in middle and long distance events.

9 out of 12 medals

To demonstrate the extent of this achievement, a few statistics provide impressive reading. Out of 47 medals won by Finland at the Olympics during this period, 45 were won in athletics events (121 medals in total).

Looking at the medals table they finished fourth, third, second and third battling each time alongside France and Great Britain - countries whose populations were ten times the size of Finland's.

Their athletics supremacy was clearly demonstrated in Amsterdam with a total of four titles, three silver medals and two bronze.

Out of the four long distance events in the Olympic programme, Finland took honours in all of them, and proceeded to leave their rivals only one silver medal (1500m) and two bronze medals (5000 and 10,000m) to contend for.

Three notable figures, without whom Finland would not be celebrating its new-found success, are Hannes Kolehmainen, who won three titles in 1912 (cross-country, 5000m and 10,000m) and one in 1920 (marathon), Paavo Nurmi, who became a legend due to his nine-medal haul between 1920 and 1928, and Ville Ritola, who triumphed in several events during the 1924 Games (3000m steeple, 10,000m, team cross country, team 3000m), and won gold again four years later.

But behind the individual achievements of Finland's top athletes lay the equally professional approach of their coaches and overall athletics organisation.

Scientific approach

A quasi-scientific training regime, in which elements of diet and psychology were given as much consideration as natural talent, was a major player in Finland's long-distance athletics success.

The superiority of the Scandinavians was such that their top athletics coaches were able to dictate, before the start, who would win the race. Much of the time, this proved a supreme humiliation for many of Finland's opponents.

Strangely, the Games of 1928 were the last in which this little country put up such a defence of its short athletics heritage, henceforth one that would be shared with others at the top of the medals table.

Copyright 2012 Agence France-Presse.