Lasse Viren was an amazing Olympic athlete; however, outside of the Olympics, he was a pretty average elite runner (no, this isn’t an oxymoron). I’m going to focus on his Olympic performances since that is what got him into my Top 10.
In 1972, the 10,000m ran heats on August 31st – Viren ran 28:04 and finished 4th in his heat (right behind Frank Shorter). The final was held on September 3rd and it went out fast. Near the halfway mark, Viren got caught up with Mohammed Gammoudi and both men went down. Viren got up, caught back up and took the lead at the six kilometer mark. He ran the final 400m in just over 56 seconds and set a world record of 27:38.35 (Shorter finished 5th in the final).
A week later, Viren came back in the 5,000m in a race that is better remembered in America as being the last time Pre was on the big stage. Viren won the race in 13:26.4.
In 1976, the 10,000m ran heats on July 23rd – Viren ran 28:14 and finished 3rd in his heat. The final was held on July 26th. Viren left nothing to chance this time, pulling away for a five-second victory in 27:40.38.
On July 28th, just two days later, Viren ran a qualifying heat in the 5,000m. He ran 13:33 and finished fourth in his heat. Two days later, on July 30th, he ran 13:24.76 to take gold in a close finish.
Less than twenty-four hours later, on July 31st, Viren toed the line for the marathon and finished a remarkable fifth in 2:13:10 (a curious fellow named Bill Rodgers finished 40th in 2:25:14).
For more on Viren, check out this Sports Illustrated article from June 1977: