Obituary: Viljo Heino

VILJO HEINO was the last of the original "Flying Finns" who dominated the world of long-distance running throughout the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Heino twice set the world record for 10,000 metres and became European champion over the same distance, but after coming relatively late to track and field his career was severely interrupted by the Second World War.

Having broken through at the age of 25 with impressive times at both 5,000 and 10,000m in 1939, Heino received a bullet wound in the leg during the so-called "Winter War" between Finland and Russia at the end of that year. But he made a good enough recovery to return, both to the Russian front and to a rigorous training routine, often running with a pistol fixed to his belt in dangerous territory.

He won his first domestic championship medal in 1942 and two years later in Helsinki broke the 10,000m world record for the first time, taking the six-mile record in the same race and becoming a hero for a nation desperate to turn its attention away from the depression of the war.

Heino was born in Iitti, a picturesque village just a few miles from the border with the old Soviet Union, and grew up in the nearby town of Karhula. He became a member of the Karhula athletics club, but it took Heino many years of exercise to get rid of the stiffness in his muscles caused by the extremely physical nature of his work at the local sawmill.

Immediately after the war, at the European Championships in Oslo, Heino won gold in the 10,000m and finished fifth in the 5,000m, just ahead of a young Czech named Emile Zatopek who was beginning to make his mark on the world stage. The pair, who became lifelong friends, met again several times over the course of the next three years, Zatopek's astonishingly laboured action contrasting sharply with the unusually fluent and graceful running style of Heino.

In 1947, coached temporarily by Paavo Nurmi, the most famous of the "Flying Finns", Heino won the British AAA title over six miles, but a combination of foot and stomach problems led to him dropping out of the Olympic 10,000m final in London the following year. Heino's "failure" was not well received by a fickle Finnish public, and he became the object of a considerable hate-mail campaign.

Determined not to go out on such a low note, Heino was gearing himself up that winter for one last assault on his 10,000m world record when his wife died suddenly, leaving Heino and their four children behind. Despite this, and despite Zatopek taking his world record the following June, Heino recaptured it on 1 September 1949, five years after setting his first world record.

His time of 29min 27.2sec fell to Zatopek again a month later but stood as a Finnish record for 10 years, by which time Heino had become chairman of the Karhula club. His latter years were spent coaching young athletes, who rarely failed to disappoint him through their unwillingness to make the kind of sacrifices Heino himself had made to his sport.

Viljo Akseli Heino, athlete: born Iitti, Finland 1 March 1914; twice married twice (four children); died Tampere, Finland 15 September 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas