How a Laplander won gold

Montreal Olympic Games, Canada*

They’ve always treated me well here in Montreal even if I don‘t look Canadian. I really look more Native American but have nothing to do with their history. When I’ve met some and we looked at each other and then in the mirror, we decided that the scholars who delve into these things are right. It may well be that Native Americans originally came from Lapland, my home.

I’m an expert when it comes to laying building materials. It’s all about precision. That’s why I got a call from the company contracted to build the track for the athletics events at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. What a thrill...the Big Games!

What races! Four years of gutwrenching sacrifices and training play out in a matter of seconds or a few minutes. My job is to do things right the first time and fast. Luck had it that Mapei’s Adesilex G19 made its debut at those Games. It’s a two-component red adhesive that today is used for athletics and sports rubber flooring throughout the world.

I led the crew that laid the track for two weeks. Day and night, the work went on non-stop. We laid 400 metres of track in gruelling shifts. Straightaways, bends, everything had to be perfect. Adesilex G19 was always there and we counted on it. Opening day finally arrived and I was going off to attend the ceremonies. But that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to see how the track responded to the stress the runners put it to. I was given the opportunity by a fellow countryman...sort of...a Finn. We Laplanders are a bit Finnish, also a bit Norwegian, Swedish and Russian. We’re a people but not a country. That’s why we don’t have an Olympic team.

The Finn was Lasse Viren. We’d met one night in a pub. He was very blond and friendly. Viren was also very famous. He won the gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the Munich Games in 1972. He wanted to repeat the performance for another ‘double gold’ at Montreal. No one thought it likely.

When I told him I’d built the track, he gave me tickets for both his finals and made a promise. ‘Tell me where you’re seated in the stadium. I’ll wave to you if I win. Some of the merit will be yours for building the track.’

It never got a mention in the sports pages or annals of those Olympics. But, when Lasse Viren grabbed the gold again by winning both races, he glanced up to his right after he crossed the finish line each time. He was trying to catch my eye. Then he looked down, nodding at the track, and bowed towards me: me, the first and only Laplander to win two Olympic gold medals!

* The Games proved to be a prelude. It was from Canada that Mapei began to extend its operations around the globe in 1978. It established the first of its foreign manufacturing facilities at Laval, a suburb of Montreal, that includes an R&D laboratory for resilient floor and wall coverings and for products for the installation of ceramics.

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