The Olympic Stadium

History and great feelings

Helsinki Olympic Stadium - “The most beautiful stadium in the world”.

Finland participated actively in the international Olympics movement already prior to the nation’s declaration of independence in 1917. The outstanding performance of Finnish athletes in the Olympics of the 1920s further boosted the dream of arranging the Olympics in Helsinki. To bring the dream to life, the Stadium Foundation was established in 1927, with the main task of acting for a construction of a stadium that would allow Helsinki to host the Summer Olympic Games.

The Olympic Stadium, with the reputation of being the most beautiful arena in the world, was the fruit of an architectural competition. The architects Yrjö Lindegren and Toivo Jäntti won the competition with their pure line functionalist proposal.

Construction work started on 12 February 1934 and the Stadium was inaugurated on 12 June 1938.


Inauguration on 12 June 1938

“It was an early summer Sunday the 12th of June two o’clock in the afternoon. The athletes representing the Finnish Sports Organisations SVUL and TUL marched side by side to the Stadium, following the Finnish flag carried by the great gymnast Heikki Savolainen. Hundreds of little girls let their balloons rise to the skies. The President of the Republic, Mr. Kyösti Kallio inaugurated the Stadium:


“Citizens! Today is a grand day for Finland as the Stadium built in our capital opens its gates to become the home of patriotic celebrations and noble contends.


Naturally, the inauguration ceremony also included athletics. The gymnasts that had come home from the Berlin Olympics with glory and medals showed their excellence on the parallel bars. The gymnastic team of Tampereen Yritys won the public’s hearts with their rod and free movement programme. The track and field programme included men’s 3,000 m and boys’ 8 x 100 m relay as well as the javelin won by Matti Järvinen (of Keravan Urheilijat) with his 73.39 m throw. In football, the teams representing the Helsinki districts of Suomen Palloliitto and Työväen Urheiluliitto met on the field. No goals were scored. The festivities ended with the national anthem.

All Finns could join the emotion through the wireless as the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yleisradio broadcast a direct report of an hour and forty minutes from the Stadium. The live audience in the Stadium numbered 16,000 spectators. In the following few days, the Finnish Press gave a lot of space for the event in the papers.

The attraction of the grand new sports arena was immense. In the months following the inauguration, the Stadium tracks and centre field saw over 20 different events. The Stadium had passed its first big tests with flying colours. 

In the years following the inauguration, the Stadium has gone through eight construction phases of different volumes. The most significant project was the refurbishment of the entire Stadium in the years from 1990 to 1994. The highest number of spectators accommodated by the Stadium was over 70,000 in 1952. In 2015, the maximum number of 39,784 was seats only. The length of the Stadium building is 243 m, the maximum width 159 m while the height of the tower is 72 m. The surface of the entire Stadium area is 4.9 ha. 


Helsinki Olympics in 1952

The Helsinki Olympic Stadium was fully prepared to receive the elite of the sports world as the ceremonious opening of the XV Olympiad on 19 July 1952 started, with the President of the Republic of Finland Mr. J.K. Paasikivi declaring the Games opened.  The Olympic torch was carried to the Stadium by the King of Runners Paavo Nurmi, while the fire in the tower was lit by Hannes Kolehmainen. The Olympic oath was sworn, in name of all participating athletes, by the great gymnast Heikki Savolainen. 


The XV Olympic Games from 19 July to 3 August in 1952 marked the most significant event in the Helsinki Olympic Stadium’s history.


The Stadium was the venue for track and field, football and equestrian sports. Show matches were organised in handball and Finnish baseball. All events saw the emerging of new heroes and favourites; for example, the world record was beaten ten times in track and field. On Sunday 3 August 1932, the Swedish President of the International Olympic Committee, Mr. Johannes Sigfrid Edström declared the Games closed. After the Games, the space behind the main stand of the Stadium was adorned with a marble slab, with engraved names of all the athletes and teams (countries) winning a cold metal in the XV Olympic Games in Helsinki in 1952.

The opening ceremony of the Olympics set the Stadium’s record of spectators, 70,435, and the entire Olympic year is still the event with the highest number of spectators. In the year 1952, the Stadium attracted 850,000 spectators in total.

Summary of the book: Helsingin olympiastadion, Helge Nygrén 1978


Timeline of Olympic stadium’s history

Take a look at the marvelous history of the Olympic Stadium! By clicking a year you’ll see the most magnificent events of that decade. You can also scroll through the whole timeline.

The architects Yrjö Lindegren and Toivo Jäntti win the architectural competition for the Helsinki Stadium with their work “1500”. Four other works are also purchased. 12 February 1932 sees the first tree felled and the first crow bar and spade hit to the frozen ground. The Stadium construction has started.
Kuvituskuva vuodelta 1934 Yrjö Lindgrenistä ja Toivo Jäntistä Olympiastadionin pienoismallin kanssa
On 20 March 1940 Helsinki gives up the arrangements of the Games due to the state of war in Europe, the interruptions caused by the Finnish Winter War and the dire economic prospective caused by the war. One month later, the IOC cancels the 1940 Olympic Games totally.
Kuvituskuva 1940 talvisodasta, kun Helsinki joutui luopumaan kisajärjestelyistä
The IOC congress of 21 June 1947, organised in Stockholm, awards the XII Olympic Games to Finland. The other contesting cities are Amsterdam, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Philadelphia.
Kuvituskuva Tukhlomasta 1947 kun kongressi myöntää kisaisännyyden Helsingille
The XV Olympic Games from 19 July to 3 August 1952. The opening ceremony takes place on 19 July. The Olympic fire is lit by Paavo Nurmi (in the Stadium) and Hannes Kolehmainen (Stadium tower). The opening of the Olympics sets the Stadium’s record with 70,435 spectators.

The most memorable event is experienced when the so-called Angel of Piece runs to the field, in addition to the torch-bearing Paavo Nurmi. Dressed in white, she runs and reaches the speaker podium. Her intention is to spread her own peace message to the world.
Kuvituskuva vuoden 1952 Helsingin Olympialaisista Rauhanenkelin juoksusta
On 24 July 1952, an historic event is seen in the Stadium. The world’s best long-distance runner, Emil Zatopek (lovingly called “Satupekka” by the Finns) wins the second of his three gold medals ( 10,000 m, 5,000 m, marathon) in the Games. He gives the gold medal to his wife Dana Zatopkova, to keep as a lucky charm. An hour later, she wins gold in the javelin with a 50.47 m throw.
Kuvituskuva vuoden 1952 Olympialaisista Emil Zatopekista ja Dana Zatopkovasta
On 28 February 1957, the first-ever championships in bandy are played in the Stadium. As Norway had withdrawn, the gold is played among three countries. The Soviet Union is the strongest but through its historic opening match, won with 4 to 3, Finland takes the silver before our Western neighbours.
Kuvituskuva vuoden 1957 jääpallon MM-kisoista  Olympiastadionilla
On 17 August 1962, the Stadium is the venue of the first world champion boxing match in the Nordic countries between the featherweight world champion Davey Moore and the challenger Olli Mäki from Härmä, Finland. Our countryman is overwhelmed by the “Black Sandman”, and when Mäki is on the canvas for the third time, the judge ends the match in round two. The match has 24,000 spectators.
Kuvituskuva vuoden 1969 Pohjoismaiden ensimmäisestä MM-nyrkkeilyottelusta Helsingin Olympiastadionilla
On 2 September 1970 the Rolling Stones gives their first stadium concert in Finland. 15 pieces are heard, starting with Jumpin’ Jack Flash and ending with Street Flashilla Man. Only 5,000 tickets are sold which is a disappointment. The price of 20 Finnish markka is probably too high.
Rolling Stones kuvituskuva
On 10 August 1971, for the first time after the Olympics, Finland has the honour to arrange a top-level event in track and field. From the Finnish perspective, the absolute highlight of the European championships is seen the very first day. Juha Väätäinen runs the first of his personal golds in 10,000 m. The story goes that the roar of the audience is heard as far as the Oulunkylä neighbourhood.
Kuvituskuva Julma-Juhasta ohittamassa maaliviivan vuoden 1971 yleisurheilun Em-kisoissa Helsingin Olympiastadionilla
1974 RISE UP
The Communist Party of Finland celebrates its 30th anniversary. There are about 30,000 to 40,000 ardent participants, many of whom wear the blue shirts of the far-left Socialist Student League. The rest of the audience is dressed in the red shirt identifying them as part of the majority wing of the party. It was not very harmonious - not even in those days - in the far left.
Kuvituskuva Suomen Kommunistisen Puolueen 30-vuotisjuhlista
On 13 August 1983, the first ever world championships in track and field take place in the Stadium. The second but last day, Saturday provides the Finns with the highlight as Ilse Kristiina “Tiina” Lillak throws the javelin and wins with her 70.82 m throw, followed by an ecstatic victory run.
Kuvituskuva vuoden 1983 yleisurheilun MM-kisoista Olympiastadionilla, kun Tiina Lillak voittaa keihäänheitossa kultaa
On 19 March 1987 the Finnish team closest to the European Cup (today’s Masters’ League), or Kuusysi meets Steaua Bukarest in quarter finals played in a snow-covered Stadium. To the great disappointment of 32,000 spectators, Steaua shoots the winning goal 4 minutes to the end, continuing its way to win the entire European cup.
Kuvituskuva vuoden 1986 Euroopan cupin ottelu Steaua Bukarestia vastaan Olympiastadionilla
On 26 August 1987 the Stadium welcomes a real American superstar – Billy Graham. He takes the stage and breaches on six August nights. He speaks and testifies to the Gospel in a way never before heard in Finland.
Billy Graham kuvituskuva Olympiastadionilla
On 31 May 1989, the previous year’s European champion Holland with its stars (Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten) come to win Finland in the world championship qualifications. The still valid record of the national team is set: 46,217 spectators. Finland puts on a fine fight but towards the very end of the match (87th minute) the tougher country strikes and the loss with 0 to 1 is a reality.
Kuvituskuva Ruud Gullit vuoden 1989 Olympiastadionilla pidetystä MM-karsinataottelusta Suomi vs. Hollanti
It is 22 years ago that the Olympic Stadium was filled with rock’n’roll. On 4 August 1992, the good old scarf headed Mark Knopfler with the Dire Straits make the entire Stadium dance in ecstasy. The sultans of swing open a new era in Finnish stadium concerts.
Kuvituskuva vuodelta 1992 Dire Straitsenin Olympiastadionin konsertista
On 9 August 1994 Finland hosts the European championships in track and field the second time, and is still a gold-winning country. This time it is the swinging hips that count - Sari Essayah is the cold medallist in women's walk. Essayah’s coach is the previous Helsinki gold-medallist Juha Väätäinen.
Kuvituskuva vuoden 1994 kävelyn EM-mitalistista Sari Essayahsta
24 July 1997 is the first time that an artist gives two concerts on subsequent days in the Stadium. Of course, it is Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. At the peak of his energy, the dance pop start makes the Stadium vibrate on both July evenings.
Kuvituskuva vuoden 1997 Michael Jacksonin konsertista Olympiastadionilla
Finland is winning over Hungary with the goal 1 to 0 by Antti Sumiala. It is now the extra time in the last match of the world championship qualifications. Winning is the only option to get to the further qualifications. 91 minutes, Hungary’s free kick. Shot missed. 92 minutes, corner kick and the final moments of the game. The whistle will be there any second now. But, behold, the ball is jumping like in the pinball machine, and in an excruciating way it enters bouncing from the goalkeeper Teuvo Moilanen’s back. It is all over. The worst nightmare in Finnish football history is witnessed by 31,000 Finnish football fans. A sigh is heard and then there is silence in the Stadium.
Vuoden 1997 Suomi-Unkari ottelun kuvituskuva Helsingin Olympiastadionilla
On 21 October 1998 the team HJK restores the faith in Finnish football by being the first Finnish team managing to get to the division stage of Masters’ League. Although HJK is the last in its division, the Stadium experiences some exiting football moments. HJK plays three fully sold home matches, loses to PSV but plays draw with Kaiserslautern and takes a legendary 2 to 0 win over Benfica.
Kuvituskuva vuoden 1998 Olympiastadionilla pelatusta Mestarien Liigan lohkovaiheen ottelusta
Finnish rock! On 5 August 1999, the Finnish artists Hector, Kirka, Pave Maijanen and Pepe Willberg close their Masters on Arena tour in the Stadium. 36,000 Finnish rock diggers have been waiting the first stadium gig by Finnish artists for such a long time. The unique community spirit among the audience is tangible.
Vuoden 1999 Olympiastadionin Mestarit stadikalla -konsertin kuvituskuva
Finland is often seen as the home of heavy rock, and the first stadium concert in this genre takes place on 26 June 2001, half a year after the turn of the millennium. The Australian mega band AC/DC offers its set of hits to a full house, blazing the trail to others, such as the Metallica who rocks the Stadium for the first time three years later.
On 13 August 2005 Finland is the first city and the Olympic Stadium therefore the first arena in history to host the track and field world championships for the second time. Helsinki sees a record flow of participants: 1891 athletes from 169 countries. Finland’s only medal is taken by Tommi Evilä in the long jump; bronze with a jump of 8.25 m.
Kuvituskuva vuodelta 2005 Tommi Evilä pituushyppäämässä Helsingin Olympiastadionilla yleisurheilun MM-kisoissa.
2007 BUBI
On 6 June 2007 one of the Stadium’s most legendary events takes place during the world championship qualification match between Finland and Belgium when the eagle owl (Bubi bubi), living at the Stadium and popularly called “Bubi”, interrupts the match for six whole minutes. Chased away by the players, Bubi flies a valiant lap of honour and takes off, despite the audience’s applauses. Finland wins 2 to 0. The national team gets the nickname Huuhkajat, or Eagle Owls.
Huuhkaja Bubi vuoden 2007 MM-jalkapallomaaoottelusta Suomi vs. Belgia
On 5 February 2011, after an interval of 70 years, ice hockey returns to the Stadium when the Helsinki-based teams Jokerit and HIFK meet in a fully-sold Finnish League match. The Olympic Stadium is crowded with 36,644 fans who witness how the red team wins with 4 to 3 in a snowy and crispy winter's day. The decisive goal is by HIFK’s Mikael “High Wrap” Granlund. The Winter Classic is repeated in 2012 and 2014.
Kuvituskuva vuoden 2011 Talviklassikosta Helsingin Olympiastadionilla
On 12 August 2020 Madonna, the Queen of Pop, has the audience wait over 90 minutes before the start of her show. This is, once again, a moment marking the Finnish music history, also paving the way to domestic stadium gigs.
Kuvituskuva Madonnasta vuonna 2012 Olympiastadionilla pidetyssä konsertissa
On 22 August 2014 Cheek outsells the stadium, not once but twice. This is an awesome achievement, even by international standards. The event becomes a mega hit, both in the Stadium and in the social media. The two-day concert will be remembered forever.
Kuvituskuva Cheekistä vuonna 2014 Olympiastadionilla pidetyssä konsertissa
The Stadium starts to prepare for the reshuffle. The spectator benches must continue their journey. The spectator bench week from 30 October to 8 November becomes a true phenomenon as over 10,000 visitors took to sawing the Stadium benches and bringing the blanks home.
Somekuva stadioinin penkkiurheiluviikosta
The honorary task of closing the Stadium doors is assigned to the Olympic walker Aku Partanen who closes the doors on 22 December 2015. Refurbishment and renewal is now starting! Finland and Helsinki will have a multipurpose arena that not only meets the requirements of international large-scale events but is also accessible to the Helsinki inhabitants and visitors on a daily basis. The renewed Stadium will open in 2020.
Kuvituskuva Olympiastadionin nettisivujen historia-aikajanaan