Paavo Nurmi, in the gauzy soft-focus that sports legends come under, is remembered as one of the greatest runners of all time. Nurmi not only won 10 Olympic gold medals during the 1920s, but he also broke from the practice of training only by time trials on the track. He helped bring us to the more realistic mix of distances used today.
Who knows how he would have stacked up to the modern-day athlete. But the myth persists. Nurmi was someone who did it all without help from exercise scientists, fancy shoes and equipment, or performance-enhancing drugs. They don't make 'em like that anymore.
It turns out they may never have. Nurmi, the Flying Finn, you might have heard last week, flew with a little help from his friends.
A Swedish sports daily dug up a 1931 advertisement featuring Nurmi and three Swedish athletes recommending the drug Rejuven.
"In using Rejuven, I have been astounded by its vitalizing effect on the body," Nurmi said in the ad, which was signed by him and included his picture.
Rejuven, which is no longer made, contained the male hormone testosterone. It's the key substance in anabolic steroids used to build muscle and help athletes recover quicker.
"I think that especially sportsmen with a long and hard season have great use for Rejuven," Nurmi said. "From my own experience, I recommend Rejuven warmly."
In fairness, the drug was not banned then as drugs like testosterone or anabolic steroids are today. But make no mistake about it. These guys knew they were getting help.
"By using Rejuven it is possible to train much more intensively," Nils Engdahl, a 400-meter runner, said in the ad. "It is particularly remarkable that Rejuven eliminates the fatigue which comes with hard training."
So does that put Nurmi in the same category as Ben Johnson and what now appears to the entire East German sports program?
Of course not. Johnson and the East Germans, or at least their medical advisers, knew the rules and did everything possible to break them, including lowering their dosage before tests and using drugs that masked what remained.
Nurmi, who died in 1973, is more innocent. It was a different generation. There were no bans on drugs. Marathon bicyclists and runners kept going with stimulants, and it now appears, Rejuven.
Nurmi obviously never considered Rejuven a drug. He made it sound more like a vitamin and encouraged everyone to try it. He sounds more like Bob Richards in the old Wheaties ads talking about the benefits from eating the breakfast of champions. This is not Ben Johnson getting shot up with drugs and lying about it.
Johnson's ban is lifted and what is billed as the new, drug-free model will make his debut Jan. 11 in a track meet in nearby Hamilton.
Cross training reduces injuries?
Erin Baker, the world's top female triathlete this year, has added to the body of anecdotal evidence that says triathletes suffer fewer injuries.
Baker, in her recent address to University at Buffalo sportsmedicine seminar, said she has suffered only one major injury in 20 years of competition, despite "slightly flat feet" and workouts that average five to six hours a day.
Baker, who began swimming competitively at age 9, said her last injury came at age 15. She switched from swimming to run in a New Zealand cross-country championship without training. She won, but suffered a stress fracture.
She cites cross training for keeping her injury free. If she feels problems coming on with running or swimming, she spends more time biking.
Baker said she can not remember the last time an elite triathlete failed to show for a race because of injury. When she concentrated on the marathon for a time last year, she said, race directors could never tell her what the field would be because they never knew who would be injured before race day.
Runners still at risk
Half the traffic problems at Delaware Park were solved when nearly half the ring road was closed to traffic last summer. But runners and other park users are still at risk from motorists cutting through the park and speeding. The Delaware Park Steering Committee and the Buffalo Police Department are discussing the possible use of portable speed bumps that could be removed for races and snowplowing.
There will be no speed bumps up at 11 a.m. Saturday for The Last Race of the Year, a two lapper around the park. You can pick up applications at the Village Glen Tennis and Fitness Club, Bally's Health Club, the Delaware YMCA or the Belmont YMCA.
UPCOMING RACES: Last Race of the Year, Delaware Park, 3.6 miles, 11 a.m., Saturday, 839-3049; Gordon's Gallop, one lap Delaware Park, 11:45 p.m., New Year's Eve, meet at the statue of the hunter, 837-3031; Mr. Ed's Country Road Race, Super Bowl Warm-Up, 5K, Middleport, 11:30 a.m., Jan. 27, 735-9989.