Lasse Virén

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Lasse Virén
LasseViren1976.jpg
Lasse Virén in 1976
Personal information
Full name Lasse Artturi Virén
Nationality Finnish
Born (1949-07-22) 22 July 1949 (age 65)
Myrskylä, Finland
Height 1.80 m (5 ft 11 in)
Weight 61 kg (134 lb)
Sport
Country  Finland
Sport Athletics
Event(s) Middle-distance running
Long-distance running
Club Myrskylän Myrsky
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)
  • 5000 m: 13:16.4 (1972)
  • 10,000 m: 27:38.35 (1972)
  • Marathon: 2:13:11 (1976)

Lasse Artturi Virén (born 22 July 1949) is a Finnish former long-distance runner, winner of four gold medals at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympics. Born in Myrskylä, Finland, Virén recaptured the image of the "Flying Finns" promoted by runners like Hannes Kolehmainen, Paavo Nurmi, and Ville Ritola in the 1920s. After his career he became a police officer and is now retired.

Biography[edit]

Early career[edit]

Virén began his running career in the United States at Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah. Virén ran on the Varsity Cross-Country team for BYU for one season, before returning home to his native Finland. A police officer from Myrskylä, Virén debuted on the international scene in 1971. His performances at the 1971 European Championships in Helsinki were overshadowed by fellow Finn Juha Väätäinen, who captured gold medals in both the 5000 and 10,000 metres events with Virén settling for modest seventh and 17th placings, respectively. According to Virén himself and his coach, Rolf Haikkola, Virén could have placed better in the 1971 European Athletics Championships, if he had done the "emptying exercise" of his system earlier – according to Haikkola, he followed the Finnish Athletics Federation's leaders' bad advice – and if he hadn't been pushed almost to the point of falling at the start of the last lap in the 5000 metres final. The "emptying exercise" of top runners means that they push their bodies to a total exhaustion or lack of energy so that their bodies can again receive much energy, and so that they can repeat their top race performances. Shortly after those European Championships, he broke Väätäinen's fresh Finnish record at 5,000 metres.[1]

Buoyed by a brutal training regimen in Thomson's Falls, Kenya, and very impressive results, which included the smashing of the 2-mile world record and wins against Great Britain and Spain in a meet held in Helsinki in the summer of 1972, Lasse Virén entered the Munich Games as a dark horse.

1972 Olympics[edit]

At the 1972 Summer Olympics at Munich, Virén won both the 5,000 and the 10,000 metres events. At the 10,000 metres final held on 3 September, Virén broke Ron Clarke's 7-year-old world record despite falling in the twelfth lap after getting tangled with Emiel Puttemans. Tunisia's Mohamed Gammoudi also fell after being tripped by Viren's legs. In less than 150 metres, Virén caught up with the leading pack after losing about 20 to 30 metres. With 600 metres to go, Virén dropped the hammer and started an unprecedented lap-and-a-half kick that only Belgium's Emiel Puttemans was able to respond to, but not outmatch. The Finn won the race in 27:38:40 (which is still the current record for the Olympiastadion). He became the fourth athlete to win both events in the same Olympics, joining fellow Finn Hannes Kolehmainen (1912), Czechoslovakia's Emil Zátopek (1952) and Russian Vladimir Kuts (1956). After them, Miruts Yifter (1980) and Kenenisa Bekele (2008), both from Ethiopia, and Mo Farah from Great Britain (2012), accomplished the coveted "double". However, it must be stated that Kolehmainen, Virén (on both occasions) and Yifter were the only ones in this illustrious list that had to endure 10,000 metres heats to qualify for the 10,000 metres final, thus making winning the "double" more challenging. In the 5,000-metres final one week later, Viren could keep up with Steve Prefontaine of the United States, Gammoudi, Puttemans and Ian Stewart of Great Britain, in the race's quick final four laps. He sprinted past Gammoudi with around 110 to 120 metres to go, and won in 13:26.4, one second before Gammoudi. Four days later, despite the wet, chilly and windy weather in the Helsinki Olympic Stadium, he set a new world record at 5,000 metres by running 13:16.4. About one week later, Puttemans broke the record by roughly three seconds.[2]

One factor in Virén's Olympic victories, especially at the 1972 Olympics 5,000 and 10,000 metres, has received little attention: his careful running of almost all the bends (curves) near the inner edge of the first lane, which spared him tens of metres compared to his chief rivals. More specifically, the United States' Steve Prefontaine gave Virén a handicap of over forty metres at the 1972 Olympics 5,000 metres, and Belgium's Emiel Puttemans gave Virén a handicap of about fifty metres at the 1972 Olympics 10,000 metres, by running many bends wide on the outer edge of the first lane or sometimes even on the second lane. This skillful practice of avoiding the running of extra metres in long-distance track races is called "bend (curve) mathematics".[3]

1976 Olympics[edit]

Virén ran at lower levels between the Olympics. At the 1976 Summer Olympics, Virén again won both events, coined later as the "double double", and became the only repeat winner of the 5,000 metres race in Olympic history. He won the 10,000-metre final comparatively easily, because even Great Britain's Brendan Foster dropped from the steadily accelerating pace of Portugal's Carlos Lopes at 8,000 metres, and because Lopes back then was unable to radically increase his pace in the last lap or so of track races. Virén passed Lopes at around 9,550 metres and defeated him by 4.79 seconds.[4]

Following his 10,000 metres final win at the Montreal games, he took off his Onitsuka Tiger (ASICS) Runspark shoes and waved them to the crowd on his victory lap. The International Olympic Committee accused Virén of malicious intent, such as showing the tiger stripe logo on the shoes, but he claimed that he had a blister. Thus, the IOC suspended Virén from taking place in the 5,000-metres final after qualifying in his heat. An appeal followed and he was allowed to enter the race, two hours before gun time.

In the 5,000 metres final, he held off all-time greats Dick Quax, Rod Dixon and Brendan Foster (all world-class at 1,500 m) with a devastating display of front-running over the last few laps. To those who watched him, the display was awesomely inspiring to the point that his last 1,500 metres in that final would have placed him 8th in the 1,500-metres final held at those Games.[5] The top four runners sprinted to the finish line inside six metres, a rare occurrence in major international championships. Remarkably, 18 hours after the 5,000-metres final, he competed in the men's marathon and finished fifth in 2:13:11.[6]

1980 Olympics[edit]

Lasse Virén ended his career after the 1980 Summer Olympics, where he placed fifth in the 10,000 metres. Virén qualified for that final, placing fourth and having clocked a disappointing 28:45 in his heat. Only after Ireland's John Treacy collapsed during his heat, due to heat stroke, was Virén given an automatic place in the final. Otherwise, he would have qualified for the final as a fastest loser.[7] He pushed that final's leading pack until the last 300 metres, before succumbing to the lethal kick of Miruts Yifter, the eventual gold medalist. Some people claimed that Viren could have run better in the 1980 Olympics if he had not done so much marathon-like training. Viren himself believes that if he had not injured his leg shortly before the Olympics, he would have run clearly better.[8] Viren skipped the 5,000-metres race and chose to compete in the Olympic marathon, where he started quite well, running over 20 kilometres in the lead group. Stomach problems, however, caused him to drop out before 30 kilometres.[9] In the autumn of 1980, he announced his retirement from active competitive running.[10]

Outside the Olympics; and life in recent years[edit]

After difficult leg surgery early in 1974, and between his Olympic double victories, he won a bronze medal in the 5,000m at the European championships behind the British athlete Brendan Foster with a time of 13:24.57. Two days later, in Helsinki, Virén won a 5,000m race in 13:26.0, defeating Anders Gärderud (Sweden). Three days after this Helsinki race, Virén again encountered Foster in a 2-mile (3.2-km) race at the Coca-Cola international meet in London at the Crystal Palace. Foster was again victorious, with Virén finishing fourth, only 0.06 seconds behind the second place runner. Virén recorded his fastest 10,000m for the 1974 season with a winning time of 28:22.6 at a Finland vs. Soviet Union international match on 21 September.

Virén had broken the world records for both the 2-mile and the 5,000m outside the Olympics. Both were done in close proximity to the 1972 Olympics: his 8:14.0 for two miles was on 14 August 1972 and his 13:16.4 for a 5,000m race on 14 September 1972.

Virén's success outside the Olympics in running near his best Olympic-year times was better in 5,000m events than in 10,000m ones. Virén broke 13:36 in the 5000m consistently outside Olympic years and sometimes even broke 13:30. At 10,000m he only broke 28 minutes in the Olympic years.[11]

In 1979, Virén competed in New Zealand, running the summer international series there while in the midst of his endurance training for the Moscow Olympics of 1980.

Established in 1977 by the Finnish sculptor Eino, the Lasse Virén Finnish Invitational, now the "Lasse Virén 20K," has become a popular, annual off-road running race in Sycamore Canyon, part of Point Mugu State Park near Malibu, California.[12]

Since his career ended he has become a well-known figure in Finland, eventually holding a seat in the Finnish Parliament with the National Coalition Party from 1999 until 2007 and from 2010 to 2011. Virén did not seek re-election in 2011.[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ see, for example, "The Gilded Seconds," published in Finland in 1972 or 1973, "The Gilded Spikes," published in Finland in 1976 and edited by Antero Raevuori, and "Lasse Virén's Stairs of Success" / Lasse Virénin menestyksen portaat, written by Rolf Haikkola and published in Finland around 2003
  2. ^ (See for example Viren's running biographies, "The Gilded Seconds" / Kullatut sekunnit, published in Finland in 1972 or 1973, "The Gilded Spikes" / Kullatut piikkarit, published around 1976 and edited by Antero Raevuori, and "The Secrets of Running" / Juoksemisen salaisuudet, published in Finland in 1979 and written by Mauno Saari; see also the YouTube video clips on the 1972 Olympics 10000 metres and 5000 metres).
  3. ^ Mauno Saari, "Lasse Viren: The Secrets of Running" / Lasse Viren – Juoksemisen salaisuudet, Finland, 1979
  4. ^ See, for example, Matti Hannus, Montreal Olympic Book / Montreal Olympiakirja, Helsinki; Runner / Juoksija magazine, 1976; Mauno Saari, Lasse Viren: The Secrets of Running / Lasse Viren: Juoksemisen salaisuudet, published in Finland in 1979.
  5. ^ See Antero Raevuori, ed., "The Gilded Spikes" – Viren himself states that he ran the last 1,500 metres of the 5,000-metre race in about 3:42.0; the seventh runner in the 1,500-metre final, Great Britain's David Moorcroft, clocked 3:40.94 – see, for example, The Montreal Olympic Book / Montrealin olympiakirja, written by Matti Hannus and published in Finland in 1976.
  6. ^ See, for example, The Montreal Olympic Book
  7. ^ (see, for example, "The Moscow Olympic Book" / Moskovan olympiakirja, published in Finland in 1980 and written by journalists of the "Runner" / Juoksija magazine)
  8. ^ (see "The Runners of the Millennium" / Vuosituhannen juoksijat, published in Finland around 1997–1998)
  9. ^ (see, for example, "The Moscow Olympic Book")
  10. ^ (in an interview to the defunct Finnish language daily newspaper Uusi Suomi / "New Finland")
  11. ^ Matti Hannus, "The Thousand Stars of Athletics" / Yleisurheilun tuhat tähteä, the article on "Virén, Lasse" in the second section of the book, the Finnish star athletes; the book was published in Finland in 1983.
  12. ^ "FLasse Viren 20Ks". lasseviren20k.com. Retrieved 21 September 2012. .
  13. ^ "Former Finnish stars increase their success in Parliamentary elections". iaaf.org. Retrieved 21 September 2012. .

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
United States Rod Milburn
Track & Field Athlete of the Year
1972
Succeeded by
Kenya Ben Jipcho
Records
Preceded by
Australia Ron Clarke
Men's 10,000 m World Record Holder
September 3, 1972 – July 13, 1973
Succeeded by
United Kingdom David Bedford
Preceded by
Australia Ron Clarke
Men's 5000 m World Record Holder
September 14, 1972 – September 20, 1972
Succeeded by
Belgium Emiel Puttemans