The Most Famous

ATHLETES from Finland

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This page contains a list of the greatest Finnish Athletes. The pantheon dataset contains 3,055 Athletes, 67 of which were born in Finland. This makes Finland the birth place of the 9th most number of Athletes behind China and Italy.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Finnish Athletes of all time. This list of famous Finnish Athletes is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Finnish Athletes.

Photo of Paavo Nurmi

1. Paavo Nurmi (1897 - 1973)

With an HPI of 77.16, Paavo Nurmi is the most famous Finnish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 61 different languages on wikipedia.

Paavo Johannes Nurmi (Finnish pronunciation: [ˈpɑːʋo ˈnurmi] (listen); 13 June 1897 – 2 October 1973) was a Finnish middle-distance and long-distance runner. He was called the "Flying Finn" or the "Phantom Finn", as he dominated distance running in the early 20th century. Nurmi set 22 official world records at distances between 1500 metres and 20 kilometres, and won nine gold and three silver medals in his twelve events in the Summer Olympic Games. At his peak, Nurmi was undefeated for 121 races at distances from 800 m upwards. Throughout his 14-year career, he remained unbeaten in cross country events and the 10,000 metres.Born into a working-class family, Nurmi left school at the age of twelve to provide for his family. In 1912, he was inspired by the Olympic feats of Hannes Kolehmainen and began developing a strict training program. Nurmi started to flourish during his military service, setting national records en route to his international debut at the 1920 Summer Olympics. After winning a silver medal in the 5000 m, he took gold in the 10,000 m and the cross country events. In 1923, Nurmi became the first runner to hold simultaneous world records in the mile, the 5000 m and the 10,000 m races, a feat which has never since been repeated. He set new world records for the 1500 m and the 5000 m with just an hour between the races, and took gold medals in both distances in less than two hours at the 1924 Olympics. Seemingly unaffected by the Paris heat wave, Nurmi won all his races and returned home with five gold medals, although he was frustrated that Finnish officials had refused to enter him for the 10,000 m. Struggling with injuries and motivation issues after his exhaustive U.S. tour in 1925, Nurmi found his long-time rivals Ville Ritola and Edvin Wide ever more serious challengers. At the 1928 Summer Olympics, Nurmi recaptured the 10,000 m title but was beaten for the gold in the 5000 m and the 3000 m steeplechase. He then turned his attention to longer distances, breaking the world records for events such as the one hour run and the 25-mile marathon. Nurmi intended to end his career with a marathon gold medal, as his idol Kolehmainen had done. In a controversial case that strained Finland–Sweden relations and sparked an inter-IAAF battle, Nurmi was suspended before the 1932 Games by an IAAF council that questioned his amateur status; two days before the opening ceremonies, the council rejected his entries. Although he was never declared a professional, Nurmi's suspension became definite in 1934 and he retired from running. Nurmi later coached Finnish runners, raised funds for Finland during the Winter War, and worked as a haberdasher, building contractor, and stock trader, eventually becoming one of the richest people in Finland. In 1952, he was the lighter of the Olympic Flame at the Summer Olympics in Helsinki. Nurmi's running speed and elusive personality spawned nicknames such as the "Phantom Finn", while his achievements, training methods and running style influenced future generations of middle- and long-distance runners. Nurmi, who rarely ran without a stopwatch in his hand, has been credited for introducing the "even pace" strategy and analytic approach to running, and for making running a major international sport.

Photo of Hannes Kolehmainen

2. Hannes Kolehmainen (1889 - 1966)

With an HPI of 69.30, Hannes Kolehmainen is the 2nd most famous Finnish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 34 different languages.

Juho Pietari "Hannes" Kolehmainen (Finnish: [ˈhɑnːes ˈkolehmɑi̯nen] (listen); 9 December 1889 – 11 January 1966) was a Finnish four-time Olympic Gold medalist and a world record holder in middle- and long-distance running. He was the first in a generation of great Finnish long-distance runners, often named the "Flying Finns". Kolehmainen competed for a number of years in the United States, wearing the Winged Fist of the Irish American Athletic Club. He also enlisted in the 14th Regiment of the National Guard of New York, and became a U.S. citizen in 1921.

Photo of Lasse Virén

3. Lasse Virén (1949 - )

With an HPI of 66.94, Lasse Virén is the 3rd most famous Finnish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 37 different languages.

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. Virén recaptured the image of the "Flying Finns" promoted by runners like Hannes Kolehmainen, Paavo Nurmi and Ville Ritola in the 1920s. He was elected Finnish Sportsman of the Year in 1972 and 1976 and later became a politician and a member of Finland's parliament in 1999–2007 and 2010–2011.

Photo of Ville Ritola

4. Ville Ritola (1896 - 1982)

With an HPI of 66.74, Ville Ritola is the 4th most famous Finnish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 31 different languages.

Vilho "Ville" Eino Ritola (18 January 1896 – 24 April 1982) was a Finnish long-distance runner. Known as one of the "Flying Finns", he won five Olympic gold medals and three Olympic silver medals in the 1920s. He holds the record of winning most athletics medals at a single Games – four golds and two silvers in Paris 1924 - and ranks second in terms of most athletics gold medals at a single Games.

Photo of Matti Järvinen

5. Matti Järvinen (1909 - 1985)

With an HPI of 64.64, Matti Järvinen is the 5th most famous Finnish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 25 different languages.

Matti Henrikki Järvinen (18 February 1909 – 22 July 1985) was a Finnish javelin thrower. He won the Olympic gold medal at the 1932 Summer Olympics ahead of two other Finns, Matti Sippala and Eino Penttilä, with a throw of 72.71 metres. Four of his other five throws would also have been enough to take gold. The three Finns did not take off their tracksuit trousers during the event.Besides his Olympic gold, Järvinen is remembered for his numerous world records. From 1930 to 1936, he broke the javelin throw world record a record ten times in a row. He also became the European champion in 1934, setting a new world record with 76.66 m, and defended his title successfully in 1938. In the 1936 Summer Olympics, Järvinen finished fifth. Järvinen continued throwing after World War II, recording a 71.70-metre throw in 1945.Järvinen was the son of Verner Järvinen, an Olympic bronze medalist in discus throw. His brother Akilles Järvinen was a decathlon world record holder and two-time Olympic silver medalist. His other brother Kalle was a shot putter and also an Olympian.The exact distance of his gold-winning throw, 72.71 metres, was used as the height of the Helsinki Olympic Stadium in commemoration of his achievement.

Photo of Albin Stenroos

6. Albin Stenroos (1889 - 1971)

With an HPI of 64.44, Albin Stenroos is the 6th most famous Finnish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 23 different languages.

Oskar Albinus "Albin" Stenroos (25 February 1889 – 30 April 1971) was a Finnish runner, who won the marathon at the 1924 Olympics.Stenroos ran his first marathon in 1909, placing third at the national championships, but then moved to shorter distances, down to 1500 m. His would run his next marathon 1924. In 1910 he won the 10,000 m race at the Finnish nationals. In absence of Hannes Kolehmainen, Stenroos won the national titles over 5000 m and 10,000 m from 1912 to 1916 and the cross country title in 1915–1917. At the 1912 Summer Olympics, Stenroos won the bronze medal over 10,000 m behind Kolehmainen. He also finished sixth in the cross country and aided his team to a second place. In 1915, he ran his first world record over 30 km (1:48:06.2), which he improved in 1924 (1:46:11.6). He also held the 20 km world record in 1923 (1:07:11.2). He skipped the 1920 Summer Olympics, but decided to run the marathon in 1924. He won the race in hot conditions, beating second-placed Romeo Bertini by almost six minutes. He placed second at the 1926 Boston Marathon, and retired after failing to finish in 1927.

Photo of Volmari Iso-Hollo

7. Volmari Iso-Hollo (1907 - 1969)

With an HPI of 63.31, Volmari Iso-Hollo is the 7th most famous Finnish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 23 different languages.

Volmari "Vomma" Fritijof Iso-Hollo (5 January 1907 – 23 June 1969) was a Finnish runner. He competed at the 1932 and 1936 Olympics in the 3000 m steeplechase and 10000 m and won two gold, one silver and one bronze medals. Iso-Hollo was one of the last "Flying Finns", who dominated distance running between the World Wars. As a youth, Iso-Hollo did skiing, gymnastics and boxing, and took up running when he joined the army. He was successful over distances between 400 m and marathon.Iso-Hollo won his first Olympic gold medal in the 3000 m steeplechase at the 1932 Summer Olympics. He was denied a chance at the world record because the officials lost count of the number of laps – the lap-counter was looking the wrong way, being absorbed in the decathlon pole vault. When Iso-Hollo went to his last lap, the official failed to ring the bell, and the entire field kept on running, covering the distance of 3460 m. If the distance were 3000 m, Iso-Hollo probably would have broken the world record. He also won the silver in the 10,000 m.In 1933, Iso-Hollo broke the 3000 m steeplechase world record, running 9.09.4 in Lahti and went to the 1936 Summer Olympics as a favourite. He won the steeplechase by three seconds, finishing with a new world record of 9:03.8, and earned a bronze medal over the 10,000 m. After the Olympics, Iso-Hollo fell ill with rheumatism but kept on competing until 1945. He died aged 62.

Photo of Gunnar Höckert

8. Gunnar Höckert (1910 - 1940)

With an HPI of 62.51, Gunnar Höckert is the 8th most famous Finnish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 21 different languages.

Gunnar Mikael Höckert (12 February 1910 – 11 February 1940) was a Finnish runner, winner of the 5000 m race at the 1936 Summer Olympics.

Photo of Ilmari Salminen

9. Ilmari Salminen (1902 - 1986)

With an HPI of 62.50, Ilmari Salminen is the 9th most famous Finnish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 24 different languages.

Ilmari R. Salminen (21 September 1902 – 5 January 1986) was a Finnish long-distance runner, winner of the 10,000 metres at the 1936 Summer Olympics.Salminen became one of the best long-distance runners in the 1930s when he began his international athletics career in 1934 by winning the 10,000 m and taking bronze in 5000 m at the first European Championships in Turin, thus becoming a main favorite at the Olympic 10,000 m run.At the Berlin Olympics, Salminen, at first took the sixth place at the 5000 m final. On the next day, Salminen won against Arvo Askola and Volmari Iso-Hollo, two other Finns, in the 10,000 m final, winning only by 0.2 seconds.In the next season, Salminen ran a new 10,000 m world record of 30:05.6. He also ran a new world record in six miles. Salminen finished his international career by winning the gold medal in 10,000 m at the 1938 European Championships and retired from athletics after the next season. He later became a sports official and headed the organizing committee of the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki.

Photo of Lauri Virtanen

10. Lauri Virtanen (1904 - 1982)

With an HPI of 61.65, Lauri Virtanen is the 10th most famous Finnish Athlete.  His biography has been translated into 17 different languages.

Lauri Johannes "Lasse" Virtanen (3 August 1904 – 8 February 1982) was a Finnish long-distance runner, winner of bronze medals in the 5000 metres and 10,000 metres at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. He finished fourth in the 5000 metres at the 1934 European Championships. His brother Eino was an Olympic wrestler.

Pantheon has 67 people classified as athletes born between 1870 and 1990. Of these 67, 25 (37.31%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living athletes include Lasse Virén, Veikko Kankkonen, and Pauli Nevala. The most famous deceased athletes include Paavo Nurmi, Hannes Kolehmainen, and Ville Ritola. As of October 2020, 17 new athletes have been added to Pantheon including Julius Skutnabb, Elias Katz, and Viljo Heino.

Living Athletes

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Deceased Athletes

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Newly Added Athletes (2020)

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Which Athletes were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Athletes since 1700.