He was born in Helsinki, Finland, where he quickly became interested in athletics. Having Paavo Nurmi as inspiration, Vasala was in the midst of a golden era of middle-distance running, not just in his own country, but around the world.
At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City he came in 41st in the 1500m, but would go onto improve his competitiveness considerably. Part of this was down to his legendary hill training of which he said "[it] is suicidal for other runners to copy my hill sessions without adequate background".
In Munich he won the 1500 m. race in a time of 3 minutes 36.3 seconds, ahead of the legendary Kip Keino and Rod Dixon. This marked a memorable day for Finnish athletics because the great Lasse Virén won the 10,000 m. at the same Games within half an hour.
His nephew, Samuli Vasala, also an athlete, won the 2003 Nordic Cross Country Championships.
|Olympic medalists in athletics (men) | Olympic Champions in Men's 1500 m|
Teddy Flack | Charles Bennett | Jim Lightbody (twice) | Mel Sheppard | Arnold Jackson | Albert Hill | Paavo Nurmi | Harry Larva | Luigi Beccali | Jack Lovelock | Henry Eriksson | Josy Barthel | Ron Delany | Herb Elliott | Peter Snell | Kip Keino | Pekka Vasala | John Walker | Sebastian Coe (twice) | Peter Rono | Fermín Cacho | Noureddine Morceli | Noah Ngeny | Hicham El Guerrouj