The 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki started in spectacular fashion with Pavvo Nurmi, then aged 55, entering the stadium with the Olympic flame and lighting the cauldron on the ground. Then, young football players carried the torch up to the top of the stadium tower, where another Olympic cauldron was lit by 62-year-old Hannes Kolehmainen.
It seemed appropriate that the most impressive achievements in Helsinki should be those of another long-distance runner, Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia, who became the only person in Olympic history to win the 5,000, 10,000 and marathon at the same Olympics. The Soviet Union entered the Olympics for the first time. Although their athletes were housed in a separate "village", warnings that Cold War rivalries would lead to clashes proved unfounded. Particularly impressive were the Soviet women gymnasts who won the team competition easily, beginning a streak that would continue for forty years until the Soviet Union broke up into separate republics. One of the first women allowed to compete against men in the equestrian dressage was Lis Hartel of Denmark. Despite being paralyzed below the knees after an attack of polio, Hartel, who had to be helped on and off her horse, won a silver medal. Lars Hall, a carpenter from Sweden, became the first nonmilitary winner of the modern pentathlon. Back in 1924, Bill Havens had been chosen to represent the United States in coxed eights rowing, but declined in order to stay home with his wife, who was expecting their first child. Twenty-eight years later, that child, Frank Havens, won a gold medal in the Canadian singles 10,000m canoeing event.