By the summer of 1972, Finnish police patrolman Lasse Virén was on the verge of a global breakthrough as a runner. On14 August, he was one of the competitors in a strong starting field in a two-mile race, a somewhat odd distance but whenever there is a chance of a world record, there is bound to be interest. Only a couple of weeks remained until the Munich Olympic Games and any chance to make a mark and gain an advantage of competitors was welcome.
The bearded Virén’s long legs ate up the ground in the pouring rain to record a new world best time of 8:14.0 to the delight of just over 10,000 spectators at Stadion in Stockholm. A man of few words, via an interpreter the Finn announced that his form was probably good enough for the upcoming games in West Germany. This turned out to be one of the great understatements of all time. Virén went on to win Olympic gold medals at 5,000 and 10,000 metres, his efforts in the latter earning him legendary status. Despite falling halfway through the race and dropping 30 metres on his competitors, the Finn fought his way back into the race to the front of the field.
To underline his superiority, Virén repeated the feat in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, once again taking gold in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres. For once, the world’s press seemed lost for words to describe the performance, which elevated Lasse Virén to the pantheon of Olympic greats.