Former President of Finland Urho Kekkonen was not only a powerful politician but also a well-known sportsman and keep-fit enthusiast. The president’s sports hobbies were covered and celebrated in the media and thus became an integral part of his public persona. This paper looks at Kekkonen’s athletic and able-bodied image and its significance for his power from the perspective of gender. In his exercise activities, Kekkonen was able to display his bodily prowess and demonstrate his version of masculinity, which emphasized both physical and mental strength. The union of mind and muscle in turn buttressed his political ascendancy. Kekkonen’s athletic body served as a cornerstone of his dominance over his country and, simultaneously, as a shield protecting Finland from both internal and external threats.
Furthermore, Kekkonen’s sports performances were essential elements in the myth that was created around the president during his term and which was carefully conserved after his fall from power. Drawing upon scholarship on men and masculinities, this paper reassesses the still-effective mythical image of Kekkonen as an invincible superman. The article reveals the performative nature of his athletic activities and shows that in part, his pre-eminence in them was nothing more than theatre enacted by him and his entourage. Thus, Kekkonen’s superior and super-masculine image was actually surprisingly vulnerable and dependent on the success of the performance. The president’s ageing, in particular, demonstrates the fragility of his displays of prowess, strength and masculinity, and shows how fragile the entanglement of body and power can be.
Urho Kekkonen, myth, masculinity, sport, exercise, body, power, ageing