Kalle Nieminen

For today’s Olympic mystery, we are looking into a case forwarded to us by Harri Piironen: Karl Maurits “Kalle” Nieminen. Nieminen had a successful amateur career in athletics, but his only appearance at the Olympics came at the 1908 London Games. There, he competed in the marathon and placed 10th out of 55 starters.

The first half of Nieminen’s life was relatively typical for an amateur athlete of that era, although he did not start competing in distance running until he was 25 years old. He soon displayed proficiency at longer distances, however, and set a Finnish national record for the 10,000 metres in 1905. Two years later he made his international début for Finland, before being selected to represent that nation at the London Games. After one more year of amateur competition, he travelled to the United States to embark upon a professional career.

Nieminen’s stint as a professional was brief but, soon after it ended, he landed a job as an athletics coach at Columbia University. He became a citizen of the United States in the 1910s while living in New York, and this is where the mystery begins. Nieminen visited his sister in the early 1920s, after which he was never heard from again in Finland. In 1971 he was declared dead in absentia, but the details of his later life became an important question in Finnish sports research.

Eventually, it was discovered that he had died in the United States around 1946, but no other information was available at the time. Oldest Olympians took on this mystery, but did not got much further, discovering only that he eventually moved to Arlington, Vermont and was still alive in 1942 when he was registered for the draft during World War II. Noted Olympic researcher (and fencing Olympian!) George Masin then discovered that he may have had a son and that his wife Maria may have died on December 17, 1951 and been buried in Finland.

Unfortunately, however, no one has yet been able to uncover an exact date or place of death for Kalle. It seems likely that he died in either 1946 or 1947, and that this happened in Vermont, but without any evidence from after 1942, we cannot be sure. We wanted to post about this not only in the hopes that someone might be able to uncover a missing piece of the puzzle, but because many websites still list his year of death as 1971, which is incorrect.