September 17, 1939: Taisto Armas Mäki runs 10,000 meters in under 30 minutes. Mäki was born in 1910 in Rekola in the municipality of Vantaa. He was known as one of the Flying Finns, runners from Finland who dominated the event up to the late 1940s. Mäki was a shepherd by trade and was nicknaed Rekolan Paimenpoika or Rekola herdboy. He was not known in the racing world prior to September of 1938 when he won the 5,000 meters at the European Championships in Paris, his only appearance at a major championship. He won out over two more famous runners and ran the 5K distance in just 14.26.8. Less than four weeks later, he also broke the record for the 10K race for the first time with a time of 30.02.0.
Mäki broke five world records during the summer of 1939. In June, he broke the two-mile world record with a time of 8.53.2 and less than two weeks later, he took over 8 seconds off the then-record for the 5K. He continued to run impressively and finally at the end of the season, he took nearly ten seconds off his own time for the 10K race. His time was 29.52.6. World events then intervened and on November 30, 1939 war broke out between Finland and the Soviet Union. Mäki was deployed, initially on the Karelian Isthmus. In February 1940, he and another Finnish runner were sent to the US to help raise money for the Finnish Relief Fund. They raced against handpicked American runners and Mäki’s times were well below those of the previous summer. The war cancelled the 1940 Olympics and Mäki’s running career ended.
The 10,000 meter run is a long-distance track running event. The distance is 6.214 miles for those not fluent in metric and it is the longest standard track event. The race was brought into the Olympic Games in 1912 and it is also run at the World Championships. Today’s current male record holder for both events is Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia. His time at the World event was 26.17.53 in 2005 and his time for the Olympics in 2008 was 27.01.17. The women’s leaders are Wang Junxia of China whose World time was 29.31.78 in 1993 and Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia’s Olympic time of 29.54.66 was run in 2008. The women’s event premiered at the Olympic Games of 1988.
Runners have slowly and consistently gotten faster. Today’s top 25 men all have times under 27 minutes. Wang is the only woman to have yet broken Mäki’s time for the 10,000 meter race. There are only five women who have broken the 30 minute barrier with Meselech Malkamu (Ethiopia), Elvan Abeylegesse (Turkey), and Meseret Defar (Ethiopia) being the other three. The Finns were able to take the gold four out of the first six times the race was run in the Olympics and garnered ten medals out of the first 18. Mäki never got to race in the event, even though he beat the 1936 gold medalist elsewhere. He survived the war and lived until 1979, dying at the age of 68.
A runner must run with dreams in his heart. – Emil Zatopek
Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. – John Wooden
The will to win means nothing if you haven’t the will to prepare. – uma Ikanhaa
You don’t get to choose when opportunity is going to knock, so you better be prepared for it when it does. – Ted Anderson
Also on this day: His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I – In 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton proclaimed himself Emperor of the US.
One Dam Thing – in 1930, construction began on Boulder Dam.
No Fear of Flying – In 1908, Orville Wright crashed his plane.
Animalcules – In 1683, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek wrote to the Royal Society.
Freedom Becomes Her – In 1849, Harriet Tubman was free.