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The Paavo Nurmi Marathon – in the footsteps of a legend

Paavo Nurmi was a Finnish runner who took nine Olympic golds and three Olympic silvers during his career. On his U.S. tour in 1925, Nurmi broke 22 world records approved by the IAAF, as well as 29 unofficial world records.

Paavo Nurmi was born in Turku on 13 June 1897 and began his amazing career in the 1910s. Throughout his career Nurmi represented the Turku Sports Federation, which has been arranging an athletic competition in Paavo Nurmi’s honour ever since his 60th birthday (13 June 1957).

The first Paavo Nurmi Marathon was organised in 1992. The idea had been growing in the organisers’ heads for some time, but the final spark came from the World Masters Athletics Championships held in Turku in 1991. An organising committee was required for a marathon for 1,000 international veteran runners, so naturally the resources were now available for an annual marathon event. Pirkko Martin, Secretary General of the event, suggested that the race should be named after Paavo Nurmi. Nurmi’s son Matti Nurmi was asked for permission to use the name, and as soon as permission was granted the Turku Sports Federation began organising the Paavo Nurmi Marathon.

The first Paavo Nurmi Marathon had around 1,000 participants. In following years the number of participants grew steadily until 1997 – the centenary since Paavo Nurmi’s birth. Over 3,000 runners signed up for the jubilee event, and nearly 1,000 of them registered during the final week. The quick growth in participation numbers led to improvements being made before the following year’s event, as the jubilee race had turned out to be slightly too big in relation to the resources that were available to the organisers.

Pirkko Martin, founder

Pirkko Martin worked as Secretary General for the event in 1992–2001. Because of her own career in athletics she had extensive knowledge about international athletics. Martin has won several medals at World and European Masters Athletics Championships in 800 and 1,500 metres. Her own experience of running a marathon was as a participant in the New York City Marathon in 1989.

Martin collected information and experiences abroad and visited the largest marathons to market the new race in Turku. According to Martin the city of Turku was instantly willing to cooperate with the event organisers. Of course the city itself also benefited from new people hearing about an event named after Paavo Nurmi.

Kuva

Milestones

  • 1992 The first Paavo Nurmi Marathon
  • 1994 Men’s marathon course record, Noriaki Kiguchi, JPN, 2:18:58
  • 1995 Women’s marathon course record, Olga Judenkova, RUS, 2:37.22
  • 1996 Men’s half marathon course record, Philip Ruguth, KEN, 1:02:39
  • 1995 Women’s half marathon course record, Ritva Lemettinen, FIN, 1:11:36
  • 2008 Record number of participants 3,471

Paavo Nurmi Marathon – a trendsetter for Finnish marathons

Owing to Pirkko Martin’s great work the Paavo Nurmi Marathon has been a trendsetter for Finnish marathon events in many ways. According to Jari Salonen, long-term Secretary General of the event, Martin built the event according to international standards right from the start. The Paavo Nurmi Marathon was also Finland’s first running event to use the ChampionChip timing system.
Since 2002 the event has been coordinated by events agency Event Consulting Turku Oy, while the Turku Sports Federation is still responsible for the arrangements.

In 2002 the number of participants started steadily growing again, and the record of the jubilee year 1997 was finally broken in 2008. This level of participation has been retained since, and the numbers have settled around 3,500. According to Secretary General Jari Salonen, growing the event is not an end in itself. The growth must be achieved in a controlled way which takes participants’ enjoyment and feedback into account. Salonen says that through this organisation, sharing areas of responsibility and hard work, the Turku Sports Federation has also created a new operations model. It is challenging to only rely on volunteers when organising a large event, so more and more cooperation with professional players is required.

The Paavo Nurmi Marathon today

The event has grown and developed, which has also strengthened its position as one of Finland’s leading running events. The Paavo Nurmi Marathon offers thee distances: 10K, the half marathon and the marathon. The half marathon sees the most participants every year (2,000–2,500). The 26th Paavo Nurmi Marathon will take place on 1 July 2017. The beautiful route shows off some of Turku’s loveliest locations: the shores of River Aura, the beautiful island of Ruissalo, the statue of Paavo Nurmi, designed by sculptor Wäinö Aaltonen, and the streets of the city centre.

Annual events and the athletics stadium in Turku have all been named after Paavo Nurmi. During the Paavo Nurmi Marathon week you can also visit Nurmi’s childhood home. The series of commemorative Paavo Nurmi Marathon medals tell the story of the running legend’s unforgettable career. In 2002–2011 the medals showcased the arenas and cities where Nurmi had beaten world records and won at the Olympics. In 2012 a new series of medals was introduced, which describes Nurmi’s legendary U.S. tour in the spring of 1925. During this tour Paavo Nurmi competed in 44 indoor competitions and 11 outdoor competitions, winning 51 of these. It was during this tour that the Americans coined the nicknames the Flying Finn and the Phantom Finn.

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