The 4x10km cross-country skiing relay was the one new event on the programme at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympic Winter Games, having been a feature of the world championships since 1933, when Sweden won gold in Innsbruck (AUT). Finland then took the title from them the following year in Sollefteå (SWE) and retained it in Vyskoé Tatry (CZE) in 1935.
The Finland team that went for gold in the event in Garmisch comprised two double world champions at the distance in Sulo Nurmela and Klaes Karppinen, with youngsters Matti Lähde and Kalle Jalkanen completing their quartet of medal hopes.
Some 64 skiers representing 16 nations took part in the competition, with a different 10km course being set up for each of the four legs and all the handovers taking place in the Olympic Stadium.
The first man out for the Finns was Nurmela, who fell and gave away over a minute to Norway’s Oddbjørn Hagen. Starting his leg in second position, Karppinen soon found himself trailing to Sweden’s Erik-August Larsson, who would win the individual 18km event two days later and had plenty of skiing in his legs. Up front, meanwhile, Olaf Hoffsbakken maintained Norway’s lead over the rest of the field.
Lähde reeled in Sweden’s Artur Häggblad to regain second place for the Finns on the third leg, but was unable to eat into Norway’s lead, which was still over the minute mark.
The race would then reach a thrilling climax, with Finnish anchorman Jalkanen catching Norway’s Bjarne Iversen on the climb in the first part of the fourth and final leg. The duo skied side by side for the best part of three kilometres before the young Finn surged ahead to cross the line in 39 minutes and 14 seconds, the fastest time of the day, sealing his team’s place in Olympic history as the first winners of the event, one that is still held to this day. The Norwegians trailed in six seconds behind, with the Swedes more than two minutes back in third.
Jalkanen, who went on to claim the world 50km title on home snow in Lahti in 1938, fought for his country against the Soviet Union in the Second World War and was killed in combat on 5 September 1941. He was 34.