The IAAF has received the sad news that Gunder Hägg, Sweden’s multiple World record breaker of the 1940’s era died yesterday, Saturday 27 November, at the age of 85.
Hägg had been living in a nursing home near Malmö, Sweden for sometime, and his failing health had confined him to a wheelchair. Born on 31 December 1918, he fell just short of his 86th birthday.
Hägg set over a dozen middle distance World records at events ranging from 1500m to 5000m, including three at both the 1500m and the Mile, one at 3000m and one at 5000m.
Exchanging the records at 1500m and the Mile on a regular basis with his compatriot Arne Andersson on tracks in Gothenburg, Malmö and Stockholm, this duo of famous Swedes, benefitting from the relative calm of their country’s neutrality during World War Two, obliterated the World records, and redefined the boundaries of middle distance running.
Hägg was the first of this famous duo to breakthrough at both distances, lowering Jack Lovelock’s 1500m record (3:47.8 - 1936) to 3:47.6 on 10 August 1941, and Sydney Wooderson’s 1937 Mile mark (4:06.4) to 4:06.2 on 1 July 1942. By the time that Hägg and Andersson had completed their series of epic World record competitions (four, 1500m and six, Mile), the 1500m mark stood at 3:43.0, and the Mile at 4:01.4.
Hägg was a worldwide celebrity during his era, travelling on two high profile running tours of the USA, and such was his fame that he was invited to Hollywood to meet the film stars.
Yet competing in the days of strict amateurism had its price. Hägg, after returning from his second American tour in 1945, along with Andersson, like many other greats before them - Jules Ladoumegue (in 1930) and Paavo Nurmi (in 1932) - was banned for life as a professional for receiving payments for their running.
Click here for a full obituary