Karhu and Olavi Suomalainen at the Tannery
The winner of the 1972 Boston Marathon on sneakers, training, and what he does now instead of running.
Last Friday, the Tannery and Karhu Running hosted a meet and greet with Oliva Soumalainen, the Finn who won the Boston Marathon in 1972 (above). I stopped by to chat with the running legend, and with the head of Karhu, Huub Valkenburg, about the company’s new shoes. Valkenburg bought the line in 2008, and has been bringing back the original shoe designs since then. “I wanted to preserve the authenticity,” he says, “it’s not a brand that comes out with a new technology every year, so we can really celebrate the original designs and explain why the shoes are made the way they are.” Karhu certainly stays true to its roots — the brand has remade its Fulcrum Stars from the ’70s and will release a remake of the original training shoe from the ’60s in the fall.
Kahru has also outfitted an Airstream trailer as a moving museum to the shoes and their Finnish heritage (photos of the Airstream courtesy of Karhu).
Here’s what Olavi had to say about his golden marathon:
You won in 1972 — did you run other marathons in the States? What made you choose Boston?
I just came for Boston because it was the most famous marathon at the time.
What was your training like?
Well, I started running around 16 or 17, when I realized I had the ability to run long distances. I just kept running and running. Then, in ’72, I heard about a qualification race organized by the Finnish-American Association (who sponsored the Finnish runners going to Boston). They typically took the first two finishers; I placed third. But the first guy didn’t want to run Boston that year, so they took the two next best.
And you ended up winning! How many people did you beat out?
Yes, I did! 1,700, maybe? It wasn’t that many, but…
Do you still run a lot?
No, not really. I don’t run every week, even. I do mostly skiing, endurance cross-country skiing. I’ll ski about 15-30 kilometers at a time. I was just skiing where I live in Finland yesterday, 300 km north of Helsinki. I’m a little jet-lagged now.
A pair of Karhus similar to the ones Olavi wore to win the ’72 Boston Marathon.
Today’s model of the same shoe.
Valkenburg shows off the Karhu running shoe from the ’60s.