Runner's World (UK)

DOUBLE TAKE Other notable Olympic doubles

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EDWIN FLACK, 1896

The Australian became the first double winner of the modern Olympic era, taking both middle distance golds at the first Athens Games. and 80m hurdles golds) for the Netherland­s in London.

EMIL ZÁTOPEK, 1952

The ‘Czech Locomotive’ won the 5000m and 10,000m double at the 1952 Games in Helsinki, then took things further by also winning marathon gold in his first attempt at the distance. He’s still the only athlete to have achieved this remarkable feat.

WILMA RUDOLPH, 1960

The US former polio patient took three golds on the track, including the 100m and 200m sprint double, at the Rome Games.

SIR PETER SNELL, 1964

The first middle distance double of the postwar era went to the New Zealander, when he won 800m and 1500m gold in Tokyo.

MIRUTS YIFTER, 1980

Having missed the chance to take on Virén at the 1976 Montreal Games, the Ethiopian stormed to 5000m and 10,000m gold at the Moscow Olympics.

MICHAEL JOHNSON, 1996

At the Atlanta Games, the American became the first man to do the 200m and 400m double. The achievemen­t remains his alone.

DAME KELLY HOLMES, 2004

After struggles with injury and mental health, the GB legend won the 800m and 1500m in Athens.

USAIN BOLT, 2008, 2012 AND 2016

A treble double for the peerless Jamaican; he took the 100m and 200m in Beijing, London and Rio.

TIRUNESH DIBABA 2008

The Ethiopian took 5000m and 10,000m gold at the Beijing Games.

SIR MO FARAH, 2012 AND 2016

The only other athlete to do the distance double double, getting us out of our seats to cheer at the London and Rio Games. terms. He had a superb physique – long legs, big lungs, enormous heart, perfect balance – and an ideal runner’s temperamen­t. He was an early adopter and heavy user of altitudetr­aining, and he developed an exceptiona­l capacity for transporti­ng oxygen. His resting pulse was 32bpm, his haemoglobi­n count somewhere between 15.4 and 15.6.

His doctor, Pekka Peltokalli­o, who admitted blood doping Ala-Leppilampi, denied providing the same service for Virén, citing those figures as proof that Virén had nothing to gain from blood doping. ‘There can be no use in adding red blood cells if one’s haemoglobi­n count is above 15,’ he said.

Watch footage of Virén racing and you soon appreciate that perhaps he didn’t need intravenou­s assistance. His economy of movement is breathtaki­ng; so is his perfect form and, in big races, his cool determinat­ion. As Bjorkland once put it (talking to the author Mike Sandrock), ‘There wasn’t an ounce of wasted movement. He ran from the belly, from the belly button.’

As for his allegedly suspicious habit of peaking for the Olympics, Virén put it better than anyone: ‘The question is not why I run this way,’ he said, ‘but why so many others cannot.’ Quax, Hildenbran­d, Dixon and Foster all ran faster 5000m times than Virén did in 1976, as did sixth-placed Simões. None did so in the Olympic final. The same five men spent much of the last half lap of that final a lane or more further out than Virén. What does that have to do with Virén’s blood?

Virén combined natural talent with sharp intelligen­ce, heroic resolve (what the Finns call ‘sisu’) and a running philosophy that he modestly defined as ‘hard work and never lose hope’. Chris Brasher, who knew both Virén and the world of Scandinavi­an endurance sports, was unambiguou­s: blood doping, he said, ‘has been done by others, but not Virén, I’m sure’. Foster – who beat Virén in all of their 11 encounters apart from those two Olympic finals in Montreal, and who later got to know him in US – declared himself ‘certain’ that his rival didn’t use blood doping. Even his one-time accuser, Marty Liquori, later conceded that ‘Virén just trained to peak at the time of the Olympics’.

You may or may not agree, but please, before reaching your verdict, take one more look at that showdown in Montreal on July 30, 1976. Say what you like about Lasse Virén, he knew how to run.

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