Usain the greatest? Don't forget Nurmi

Usain the greatest? Don't forget Nurmi

SINGAPORE - In William Goldman's 1964 novel Marathon Man, his hero Thomas Levy - played by Dustin Hoffman in the film - is like some of us. A runner and a romantic.

For him nothing is impossible, not even chasing down one of history's finest runners: "It could not be happening but there it was - Levy was gaining on Nurmi!"

Of course, Levy was only day-dreaming. Because almost no one caught up with Paavo Nurmi, not even in novels.

For this was a runner so fine he had two nicknames - Flying Finn and Phantom Finn - and had his nation's first DC-8 named after him. Being a distance runner, the first flight was fittingly to New York.

Nurmi, who ran with a stopwatch in hand, won seven races in six days at the 1924 Olympics en route to five golds.

He won four other golds, and three silvers, in three Games. When people say Usain Bolt, greatest runner ever, my mind travels to Finland.

Nurmi was a quiet man of cold calculation; Bolt is a fellow of casual cool with a wide grin, lots of cheek and a bragging mouth.

He is a psychologist's ideal interview - does he not feel tension? - and is sports' calmest champion since golfer Walter Hagen - according to Sports Illustrated - once kept shaving as the US president waited for him at the first tee.

Bolt is also fast. So fast he makes 9.77 seconds - his Moscow 100m time - seem slow.

So fast that he generates counter-intuitive headlines like "Is Usain Bolt too quick for his own good?"

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