Gunder Haegg - The Unfulfilled Dream, Part 2

Some of the greatest athletes of the world have tried in vain to win an Olympic gold medal. We portray them in this series.

Gunder Haegg was a victim of his time and circumstances. When the Swedish long distance runner was at the height of his career, World War II prevented him from becoming an Olympic champion in 1940 and 1944. In 1948, he was denied the chance to compete in the 1948 London Games because he had been stripped of his amateur status two years before. Allegedly, Haegg had been running once for 400 Swedish crowns (picture: aftonbladet.se).

Haegg could have been a second Paavo Nurmi. The Swede, born in Albacken on the last day of 1918, and the "Flying Finn" were the only two men to hold every single world record from 1500 to 5000 meters at the same time. Haegg also was the first men to run the 5000 meters in less than 14 minutes. His personal best, marked on September 10th, 1942, stood for twelve years. The summer of 1942 was the crown jewel of Haegg's feats, when he clocked ten world records within 82 days. Overall, he smashed 16 world records - but never ran in a single Olympic race.

Directed by his coach Goesta Olander in the training camp of Valdalen, deep in the woods of northern Sweden, Haegg started to use a form of interval training as one of the first long distance runners. He paved the way for the methods later taken to perfection by the likes of Vladimir Kuts and Emil Zatopek, who finally broke his 5000 meters records.

Because of the war, only few footage of Haegg's races has survived. Here are some impressions from his tour through the United States in 1943:

After his athletics career, Haegg lived as unconventional and extraordinary as his running had been. He sold books about his races, was a fire fighter, forest worker, salesman. And he always remained an icon for his country. Sports historian Julin called Haegg "a national symbol for a small country standing at the abyss of war".

Haegg passed away on November 27th, 2004, near Malmoe. But there is one thing he accomplished that even Nurmi did not get: A Swedish band named herself after Gunder Haegg (until they had to switch their name following legal persecution) and dedicated a song to him in 1970. A song about nature, wolves, idealism and "lousy capitalism". Haegg will sure ly have liked this one (picture: racingpast.ca).

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