article by Nicholas Pucci
The five-circle encyclopedia sometimes tells the wonderful story of athletes used to sailing in the ocean of anonymity, then managing to emerge on the occasion that you would least expect but which then has the strength to deliver you to history. That of Finnish Pekka Vasala it is one of them.
Never rose to prominence in previous international events in which he took part – eliminated in heat in the 1500 meters at the Mexico City Games in 1968 and no better than ninth over the same distance at the European Championships in Athens in 1969 and at the home ones in Helsinki in 1971 – Vasala in fact lives his “day of days” precisely in the most propitious occasion, that is to say in the 1500m final at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
In an edition of the Games that is remembered for the return of the Finnish school in middle-distance running, with Lasse Viren scoring a double over the 5 and 10,000 metres, Vasala certainly does not play the role of favorite in a test where the predictions are directed towards the Kenyan duo formed by Mike Boit (already bronze in the 800m) and, above all, by Kip Keino, reigning Olympic champion and winner of the 3,000m steeplechase someday Before.
All’Olympic Stadium of Monaco, between 8 and 10 September, still other protagonists are expected to perform, such as the American Jim Ryun and the West German Bodo Tummlerwho accompanied Keino to the podium at the Mexican Games, the blue Franco Arese who is European champion for the title won in Helsinki in 1971, the other American Dave Wottlewinner of the 800m race and who would really like to complete a fantastic double which in the past was only achieved by the Australian Edwin Flack in 1896 in Athens, the American James Lightbody in 1904 in St.Louis, the other American Melvin Sheppard in 1908 in London, to the British Albert Hill in 1920 in Antwerp and to the New Zealander Peter Snell in 1964 in Tokyo, and Frenchman Jacky Boxbergerwho took the gold medal at the European Indoor Championships in Grenoble in March.
The seven heats already feed the illusions of Keino, who signs the best time trial in 3’40″0, curiously the same time as the New Zealander Ron Dixon who runs with himand if the main favorites access the semifinals en bloc, only bad luck cuts Ryun out, world record holder in 3’33″1 as well as winner of the Trials Americans, who falls in his series, the fourth with Keino, tries to comeback but fails to qualify.
Boit and Keino themselves are also the best in the first two semifinals, but it is the third of these that delivers a package of luxury outsiders to the final, with Dixon setting the best time, 3’37″9, Vasala equaling him even though finishing second, Briton Brendan Foster and West German Paul-Heinz Wellmann complete the quartet of those admitted to the deciding actfrom which Arese is excluded, only seventh, and for which are also qualified the Soviet Volodymyr Pantelei, the Dane Tom Hansen (who oust Wottle, the other blue Gianni Del Buono and the third West German of the lotus Thomas Wessinghage), the Belgian Herman Mignon and reserve New Zealander Tony Polhill (who in turn take out Boxberger and Tummler).
Intending to repeat the tactic of four years earlier in Mexico, in the final Keino decisively takes the lead with 800 meters to go, crumbling the group with only Dixon and Foster resisting him, followed by Boit and Vasala. At the bell of the last round, Keino picks up the pace again, Foster gives way and Vasala moves into second position, making it clear upon entering the straight that two pairs are fighting for medals, Keino and Vasala for the gold and Dixon and Boit for the bronze. And the final sprint, truly breathtaking and amazing, rewards Vasala who goes on to triumph in 3’36″3 ahead of the Kenyan and Dixon.
If Pekka’s day in Munich 1972 isn’t a day of glory, tell me which one?