Finnish Olympians Declared Dead in Absentia

Today on Oldest Olympians we are looking at a quartet of mysteries sent to us by Harri Piironen. All of them concern Finnish Olympians who are believed to have immigrated to North America and subsequently disappeared from the public record.

Jussi Kivimäki – Member of Finland’s wrestling delegation to the 1908 London Olympics

Jussi Kivimäki, born February 5, 1885, represented Finland in the light-heavyweight, Greco-Roman wrestling competition at the 1908 London Games. There, he received a bye in round one, but then lost by decision to Jacob van Westrop of the Netherlands in round two and was thus eliminated from the tournament. The Helsinki champion of 1907 and 1908, he next competed at the unofficial 1909 European Championships, where he was sixth, and then immigrated to North America.

(Did Kivimäki become Ole Samson?)

Here sources differ: most everyone agrees that he was a professional wrestler in Canada for a time after 1910. Some believe that he changed his name to John Kivimäki or John Thompson. At least one researcher believes that he might have been Ole Samson. Some believe that he was a member of the Finnish Workers’ Sports Federation during the 1920s and 1930s; others think that this is a misidentification. Regardless, no one has been able to locate a date of death and thus he was declared dead in absentia with a retroactive date of January 1, 1976.

Emil Holm – Member of Finland’s sport shooting delegation to the 1912 Stockholm Olympics

Emil Holm, born September 2, 1877, represented Finland in the three positions, 300 metres shooting tournament at the 1912 Stockholm Games, where he was 49th individually and 5th with the team. The following year, his building firm went bankrupt and he fled to the United States, possibly settling in Galveston, Texas. Former fencing Olympian, and now researcher, George Masin discovered Holm in the draft registry for World War I dated September 12, 1918, living in Houston and with a next-of-kin as his Siri Regina Holm of Helsingford. Emil was declared dead in absentia with a date of January 1, 1968.

Kalle Leivonen – Member of Finland’s wrestling delegation to the 1912 Stockholm Olympics

Kalle Leivonen, born September 17, 1886, represented Finland in the featherweight, Greco-Roman wrestling tournament at the 1912 Stockholm Games. There he survived until round seven, only to be defeated by upcoming silver medalist Georg Gerstacker of Germany. Two years later, Leivonen immigrated to the United States.

(Account of Leivonen’s accident, from the May 26, 1927 edition of the Fitchburg Sentinel)

We located records of Leivonen’s arrival in Massachusetts in 1914, where he ran a business and lived until at least 1927. That year, he was rescued after nearly drowning in an automobile accident. Evidence suggests that he was living in Manhattan by 1930, but after that our trail went cold. Without further information, he was declared dead in absentia as of January 1, 1978.

Hannes Kärkkäinen – Member of Finland’s diving delegation at the 1924 Paris Olympics

Hannes Kärkkäinen, born July 17, 1902, is perhaps the most mysterious of all. He represented Finland in platform diving at the 1924 Paris Games, where he placed ninth. He is known to have left Finland in 1926, but after that his movements are not certain. One theory is that he emigrated to the United States and eventually died in North Sterling, Connecticut. The other is that he was the Juho Juhonpoika Kärkkäinen who was killed in the Soviet Union’s Great Purge in 1938. As neither theory has been proven, he is listed with a death in absentia date of January 1, 1993.

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