William Kolehmainen

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August William Kolehmainen (December 30, 1887 – June 26, 1967), known in Finland as Viljami Kolehmainen, was a Finnish-American long-distance runner and track and field coach. The brother of fellow runners Hannes and Tatu, William Kolehmainen moved to the United States in 1910 and became a professional runner there, setting a long-standing marathon world best in 1912.[1]


Kolehmainen was born in Kuopio on December 30, 1887.[1] His older brother Tatu and younger brothers Hannes and Kalle were all also distance runners; William Kolehmainen started as a cross-country skier, and first competed in running in 1907.[1] At the time, the sport was only starting to pick up in Finland, and the brothers, together with Kalle Nieminen and Albin Stenroos, were among the pioneers of Finnish distance running.[2]

In 1910 William Kolehmainen moved to the United States, where he acquainted himself with American training methods and received coaching from Lawson Robertson of the Irish American Athletic Club.[1] In turn, he sent tips and training programs to his brothers in Finland.[1][2] In 1911 he ran 10,000 metres in 31:19.0 while visiting Finland; the time would have broken Hannes Kolehmainen's Finnish record by almost a minute, but as William had already become a professional runner, his times were not eligible under amateur rules.[2][3]

Kolehmainen competed on the professional running circuits of the United States and Scotland for the following years.[1] He broke the marathon world best in Vailsburg on October 20, 1912.[2][4] Kolehmainen had earlier beaten Hans Holmer, who held the previous world best of 2:32:21.8, in a close race at the Powderhall Marathon in Edinburgh;[5] in Vailsburg, the two met again and ran together for much of the way, but Kolehmainen dropped Holmer after the 20 mile mark.[4][5] In the end, Kolehmainen won by more than five minutes, and his time of 2:29:39.2 was a new world record;[2][4][5] his split at 25 miles, 2:22:20.6, was also a world best.[2][6] Although his times were not accepted as records by the International Amateur Athletic Federation due to his professional status, they remained world bests for a long time; the first faster marathon recognized by the Association of Road Racing Statisticians was run by Sohn Kee-chung in 1935,[7][8] although the IAAF also recognizes Albert Michelsen's time of 2:29:01.8 from 1925.[9] William Kolehmainen and his younger brother Hannes held marathon world bests simultaneously, on the professional and amateur sides of the sport respectively.[2]

Kolehmainen remained active as a coach for many years, guiding American and Finnish-American athletes in New York City. In addition to his brothers, his pupils included Ville Ritola and Juho Tuomikoski.[1] He died in Boynton Beach, Florida on June 26, 1967.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Nieminen, Mikko. "Viljami Kolehmainen" (in Finnish). Yleisurheilu.fi. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Jukola, Martti (1935). Huippu-urheilun historia (in Finnish). Werner Söderström Osakeyhtiö.
  3. ^ Miettinen, Kyösti (2014). "Urheilua Väinölänniemellä yli vuosisadan ajan" (in Finnish). Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c "Marathon Record for Kolehmainen" (PDF). The New York Times. October 21, 1912. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c Trevor, George (April 20, 1924). "Willie Kolehmainen Is Easily Greatest of All Marathon Runners" (PDF). Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  6. ^ "World Record Progressions- Track". Association of Road Racing Statisticians. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  7. ^ "World Best Progressions- Road". Association of Road Racing Statisticians. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  8. ^ "Yearly Ranking Leaders- Marathon". Association of Road Racing Statisticians. Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  9. ^ Butler, Mark; IAAF Media & Public Relations Department (2013). IAAF Statistics Handbook Moscow 2013. International Association of Athletics Federations.