Lasse Viren - Finland - International athletics career.

Photo/Foto: George Herringshaw

Date: 27 July 1980

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      Friday, 22 July 1949
      Helsinki, Finland
  • Finland
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Lasse VIREN - Finland - International athletics career.



Lasse Viren had taken the distance running world by storm in September 1972, winning the 5000m/10000m double at the Munich Olympics, and setting a new world record during his win at the longer distance. On his return to Finland, and only four days after the Olympic 5000m final, Viren also acquired the 5000m world record, setting a new mark of 13min 16.4sec. Having peaked for the Olympics, Viren took a relatively relaxed attitude the following year, finishing fifth in the European Cup at Edinburgh in September, over 20 seconds behind the winner Brendan Foster (Great Britain). Viren's performances improved during 1974, although he obviously didn't take as serious an attitude to training or competition as he did during Olympic years. At the 1974 European Championships in Rome, Brendan Foster set the pace in the early stages of the 5000m final, held on 8 September. With five laps to go, Foster threw in one of his typical mid-race surges, covering the next lap in only 60.2sec.


The only runner who managed to stay with him was Viren, although, he too lost contact after another lap, and eventually finished third in his year's fastest time of 13min 24.57sec, over seven seconds behind Foster. Only two days later, at Helsinki, Lasse won a 5000m race in 13min 26.0sec, defeating Anders Garderud (Sweden), and Olympic finalist Steve Prefontaine (USA). Only three days after that, Viren again encountered Foster in a 2 mile race at the Coca-Cola international meeting in London (Crystal Palace). Foster was again victorious, with Viren finishing an unlucky fourth, only 0.06sec behind the second placegetter. Viren recorded his fastest 10000m time for the year of 28min 22.6sec when he was the winner at a Finland v Soviet Union international match on 21 September.  


At the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Lasse Viren had become the fourth man in history to achieve the 5000m/10000m double. After three relatively indifferent years following Munich, Viren again began to get serious about his training during 1976 in preparation to defend his Olympic titles that year in Montreal. Only a month prior to the Games, on 23 June, Viren showed that his Olympic program was well on schedule when he won a 10000m race at Helsinki, in the season's fastest time to that point of 27min 42.95sec. In the 10000m final at Montreal, on 26 July, Carlos Lopes (Portugal) took the lead after eight laps, and eventually dropped everyone except Viren and Brendan Foster (Great Britain). Lopes dropped Foster after 8km, but when Viren sprinted past him just before the bell, he was unable to respond, and Viren sprinted away to win easily  in 27min 40.38sec. In the 5000m final held four days later, Viren and Foster alternated the lead in the early stages but without putting on too much pressure. With 1000m to go, Viren made a decisive move, starting a long sustained drive which he maintained to the finish where he crossed the line first in 13min 24.76sec. Viren had become only the second man besides Emil Zatopek (Czechoslovakia) to win two Olympic 10000m titles, and the first man to win to win two 5000m titles. As a consequence, he had won a unique 'double double', a record that experts feel will never be repeated. Not content with his laurels, Viren decided to enter the marathon the day after his 5000m victory, in an attempt to emulate the triple gold medal feat of Zatopek at the 1952 Olympics. Although he did not win the gold, Viren still finished a creditable fifth in his debut at this distance.



Even before Lasse Viren had won his unique 'double double' of winning the 5000m and 10000m titles at both the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games, people were starting to ask questions as to why Lasse performed so brilliantly at the Olympics, but with relative mediocrity at other times. He was accused of blood boosting, a practice where some of an athlete's own blood is extracted and later reinjected just prior to a major competition after the body has naturally built its blood levels back to normal. Although, at the time, this practice was not illegal, and several sportspeople had admitted using it, it was nonetheless considered cheating from a moral viewpoint. Despite allegations laid at Viren, nothing was ever proved, and doubters gradually accepted what he had always claimed, that he organised his training schedule to peak at the time of Olympic competition. In keeping with this practice, Viren kept an even lower profile between the 1976 and 1980 Olympics, than he had during the previous Olympiad. He did not compete at the 1978 European Championships, but when the next Olympic Games was held in Moscow in 1980, Lasse was back competing in the 10000m. In the final at Moscow on 27 July, the three Ethiopian competitors set the pace in the early stages, periodically surging, then dropping back, and alternating the lead amongst themselves. The majority of the field, including Viren, were content to stay in contention, but at a more relaxed tempo. With seven laps remaining, there were only the three Ethiopians, Viren, and his Finnish teammate Kaarlo Manninka left in the leading pack. Viren sped to the lead with 500m to go, raising the hopes of his supporters, but the other four quickly raced past him, and he faded to fifth place in his last major international appearance. (Ron Casey)