The legendary Finnish distance runner, who won nine gold medals and three silvers before being banned from the 1932 Olympics, returned as torch bearer when the Games arrived in his homeland.
Nurmi completed one circuit of the track and then handed the torch to Hannes Kolehmainen, veteran of the 1912 and 1920 Games and the first of the Flying Finns, who climbed up the steps to light the flame at the top of the tower.
Fittingly, the hero of these Games was another long-distance runner, the Czech Emil Zátopek. He began by repeating his success from London in the 10,000m and then followed up by improving on his silver in London at the 5,000m event. With two gold medals in the bag, Zátopek attempted a marathon for the first time and won it, becoming the only Olympian to win the long-distance treble. And for good measure his wife, Dana Zátopková, won gold in the javelin on the same day as Zátopek's 5,000m success.
With Taiwan the only nation to stay away — in protest at the presence of China — the political focus was on the nations that did attend. Germany, competing as a united team in name but without any athletes from the East, failed to win a gold medal for the only time in the country's Olympic history.
Nina Romashkova delivered a first gold for the Soviet Union with victory in the women's discus and the gymnast Viktor Chukarin emerged as the most successful athlete overall with four gold medals and two silver. Maria Gorokhovskaya, with seven medals including one gold, was the most decorated performer at the Games, and the Soviets finished just behind the United States in the medal table, beginning a rivalry which is only occasionally friendly.
Hungary's third place was a repeat of their achievement of 1936 and their total of 16 golds included a first for football, with Ferenc Puskás a star of the tournament. The achievement of Károly Takács, who contributed with a gold for shooting, was all the more remarkable because he taught himself to shoot with his left hand after his right was badly injured in 1938 by a faulty grenade.
Harrison Dillard, who had missed out on qualification for the United States hurdles team in London, returned to his preferred event for Helsinki and won gold. Jamaica continued their development with gold in the men's 400m and 4 x 400m plus silver at 100m, 400m and 800m.
Marjorie Jackson won the sprint double for Australia and set out for a third gold with the 4 x 100m relay team. They broke the world record in the heats and Australian hearts in the final as, with a two-metre lead on the final bend, Winsome Cripps accidentally raised her knee and knocked the baton from Jackson's hand.
In the boxing arena there was controversy when Ingemar Johansson's silver medal was withheld for not trying in the heavyweight final against the American Ed Sanders. The Swede insisted his game plan had been to stay out of trouble and launch an onslaught in the final round. He resumed his career after the Games and beat Floyd Patterson to win the world title in 1958, but his medal was not reinstated until 1982.
Did you know?
Israel made its Olympic debut, having been unable to take part in 1948 because of its War of Independence.
German athletes returned to the games for the first time since the Second World War, winning 24 medals but no golds.
Non-military officers were allowed to take part in equestrianism for the first time. Denmark's Lis Hartel became the first female medallist.
Top three performances
1-Emil Zatopek (CZE) - Won the 5000m, 10000m and the marathon (his first) to take his personal tally to four Olympic golds.
2-Hungary - Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Nandor Hidegkuti were among the players in the Hungary team that won the football gold during a 52-match unbeaten run. Hungary finished third in the medal table.
3-Marjorie Jackson (AUS) - Won the sprint double and narrowly missed out on a third gold in the 4x100m relay.