Born in Turku, Nurmi was one of the "Flying Finns", together with among others Hannes Kolehmainen[?] and Ville Ritola. During the 1920s, Nurmi was the best middle- and long distance runner in the world, setting world records on distances between 1500 m and 20 km.
Nurmi won a total of nine gold medals at the Olympic Games from 1920 to 1928. In 1932, Nurmi was unable to compete at the Olympics, as he had received money for his running and was thus considered a professional. At the 1920 Summer Olympics, Nurmi won three gold medals: the 10000 m, the cross country event and the cross country team event, also finishing second in the 5000 m.
In 1924, he won no less than 5 gold medals, winning the 1500 m, 5000 m (with only 26 minutes between the final races), the 3000 m team race, and again both cross country events. It was the last time these cross country events were held, as the great heat caused more than half of the competitors to abandon the race, and many more had to be taken to the hospital.
Nurmi ended his Olympic career at the 1928 Summer Olympics, winning the 10000 m and two silver medals (5000 m and 3000 m steeplechase).