World record
16 June 1928

800 meter

2.20,4

Inga Gentzel 

Stockholm’s own Inga Gentzel was not lacking in motivation as she lined up for the 800 metres at the city’s former Olympic stadium, Stadion, on 16 June 1928. The 20-year-old was Sweden’s first female track and field star but the Swedish Olympic Committee had made its position plain; under no circumstances would it be footing the bill for Gentzel, or any other female athlete, to travel to the Olympic Games in Amsterdam that summer. This was still very much a man’s world. The young star still hoped that if she ran an exceptional race, the high and mighty members of the committee might be forced to change their minds. Gentzel’s winning time in the 800 metres was exactly what was required to put the issue of women’s participation in the Olympics firmly on the agenda, a new world record time of 2:20.4, the first world record in athletics to be held by a Swede.

The newspaper Stockholms Dagblad launched a collection among its readers to pay for the Swedish women to travel to the Olympics. Reluctantly, the Swedish Olympic Committee backed down and Gentzel and five other women were eventually allowed to compete in the games. And lucky they did, for the Swedish 800-metre runner returned home with a fine bronze medal. On a sour note, the men of the International Olympic Committee were so distressed by witnessing exhausted female runners crossing the finish line that women would not be allowed to compete at 800 metres again until the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960. Neither the female physique nor the female psyche were deemed capable of dealing with such long distances.

Inga Gentzel received attention for her Olympic bronze at regular intervals throughout her life. She always insisted that she had become an athlete by chance after convincingly winning an informal race at a fair as an 18-year-old. This inspired her to join an athletics club and only a few weeks later she was selected for a major international meeting at which she enjoyed immediate success. Inga Gentzel became a star without having trained a single day in her life, a fairytale that could never be written today. 

Other records

Lasse Virén

By the summer of 1972, Finnish police patrolman Lasse Virén was on the verge of a global breakthrough as a runner.

Hannes Kohlemainen

Spectators who saw Hannes Kohlemainen breaking the world record in the 5,000 metres at the 1912 Olympic Games knew that they hade witnessed an event that people would talk about for decades to come.

Paavo Nurmi

Paavo Nurmi

Nurmi's iron-willed discipline made him the king of the track during the 1920s.

Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe

The American Jim Thorpe is one of the greatest Olympians of all time. At the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, he won both the athletics pentathlon and the decathlon by unprecedented margins. 

Erik Lemming

Eric Lemming

Expectations of Eric Lemming were high at the 1912 Olympic Games and he did not disappoint, taking the gold medal in the javelin with a throw of 60.64 metres.

Brandkårens IK

On the 15th of August 1941, Stockholm Stadium saw an unusual world record be broken when the Fire Brigade’s Sports Club ran a 4 × mile relay at at time of 17:16.2.