The 1916 Olympic Games, that were supposed to take place in Berlin, were cancelled because of the World War I. After the war hiatus, and with Hungary, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire banned from competition, as they were blamed of causing the war, the 1920 Olympics took place in Antwerp, Belgium, where the Olympic Flag and the Olympic Oath did their first appearances.
Hannes Kolehmainen was born in Kuopio, Finland, and was one of four long distance running brothers. He completed his first marathon when he was 17, and run a few more until he was 19, when he focused in shorter distances in the track. In the 1912 Olympic Games he won 3 gold medals, in the 5000m, 10000m and the 12k cross-country race (that would be later discontinued), plus a silver one, in the cross-country team event. His brother Tatu competed in the marathon, and although an early leader, he was unable to finish the race.
After the 1912 Games, Hannes moved to the United States, where he worked as a bricklayer, and started competing again in longer distances. In 1920 he won the marathon trial event in the United States, although he had to compete for Finland instead of his adoptive country, as he had already represented them in the 1912 Olympics.
In the Antwerp marathon, the course was determined to be 42.75k, although it was later estimated to be only about 40k. The marathon started with cool weather and about 50 participants. The South African athlete Gitsham, silver in the 1912 Olympics, which has been training several weeks in the course, and Belgian Bross were the early leaders. At around the midway point Hannes moved to the forefront, running with Gitsham for around 10 miles, until he withdrew because of a leg injury.
It was not going to be an easy victory for Hannes, as the Estonian athlete Jüri Lossmann was slowly closing the distance between them. Finally, Hannes won for a narrow margin, in a time of 2.32.35, which became the world record (although over a wrong course distance). Lossmann crossed the finish line only 13 seconds behind the winner, with Italian Valerio Arri completing the medal positions. Hannes´ brother, Tatu finished in 10th position.
After the Antwerp’s Games Hannes moved back to Finland and broke a few world records in distances ranging from 20 to 30k, although he didn´t run any more marathons. In 1924 he missed the marathon qualifiers for the Olympic Games of Paris, although he convinced the Finnish selection committee of his fitness doing a 17 miles solo test. Therefore, he started the 1924 Olympic marathon, but couldn´t finish the race. A tireless athlete, he also tried to qualify for the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam, but already 39 years old was unsuccessful, and retired afterwards closing a remarkable running career.
Installed in Finland, he did many jobs, and was again in the limelight when he was chosen to light the Olympic Flame in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, after taking the flame from another legendary Finnish runner, Paavo Nurmi.