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No one really believed that the old man could keep up this killing pace, and the police feared so much for his health that they detailed a doctor and a nurse to tag along behind him in a car. But Steel Grandpa pressed on unconcernedly. By the end of the fourth day, with only seven hours' sleep since the start, he had extended his lead to more than 150 miles. The lead would have been greater still if overenthusiastic spectators had not hindered his progress.
On the fifth day, with the race building up to a climax, Hakansson was still going strong as he approached the finish. People rode out from Ystad to pace him into town on bicycles and ran along by his side in the streets. Bystanders cheered him all the way, shouting, "Keep going, Grandpa," and "Don't stop—don't sleep."
He did neither. Feeling more exhausted than ever before in his long life, he forced himself on at an average speed of 20 miles an hour. Then, a few miles from the finishing line, he suddenly braked and stepped wearily from his bike. Had he reached the limit of his endurance? The crowd thought so at first, but their faith was soon restored. Fact was, Gustav stopped to change his clothes for the grand finale. Stepping out of his overalls, he now pulled on a trim pair of black shorts and a vest embellished with a giant "O."
"I want to look like a real cyclist," the bearded wonder explained. Then, with a cheery wave to the crowd, he remounted and rode on toward the town as fast as ever.
In Ystad, tens of thousands of people who had converged on the finishing point from all over southern Sweden were waiting to give the old man a hero's welcome. Cameras were clicking every few yards along the way; flowers and confetti were floating down onto the road; voices were raised in a popular Swedish song, Grandpa Is Dancing an Old Waltz. Everything was set for a triumphal entry. Then—with only about 800 yards to go—Steel Grandpa suddenly came to a halt. After nearly 1,000 miles, his bike suffered its first flat tire.
Gustav dismounted, looked at the offending tire, then glanced down the road. Ahead he could see the mayor and a party of civic officials gathered to welcome him at the finishing tape. Even a man with less sense of the theatrical than Gustav could sense that this was no time to stop and fix a puncture; with a sprightly movement, the old man remounted and wobbled the last few hundred yards on the flat, crossing the line at exactly 2:15 p.m. on July 7, 1951. He had completed the 1,000-mile course in five days and five hours—almost a full day ahead of the leading official competitor.
Cheering Swedes mobbed the conquering hero, and a gigantic garland was lassoed around his neck. For a time it looked as though he would be injured in the crush, which had already caused many women to faint, but the police elbowed their way through the throng and escorted the weary cyclist away—to cell No. 1 of the local jail. There he was examined by a woman doctor who had been sent to Ystad by the Swedish Athletic Association for that specific purpose. She was astonished to find that Steel Grandpa was quite unaffected by his tremendous exertion. His pulse and blood pressure were normal; she could find nothing wrong that could not be put right by a few hours' sleep.
Of the 125 hours that it had taken him to cover the 1,000 miles, Gustav had spent only 10 sleeping. As thousands of people surrounding the Ystad police station shouted, "We want St�l Farfar," medical authorities tried to persuade the old man to fly to Stockholm at their expense for a more extensive physical checkup. He politely declined.
Gustav did, however, consent to go on a tour of Sweden—a VIP's tour. Theaters all over the country wanted him for personal appearances. Four days after the marathon he was taken to Stockholm and rode in triumph through the capital in an open landau. Then he was driven to the royal family's summer residence at Halsingborg to be honored by King Gustav and Queen Louise.
Since he was not an official entry, Hakansson could not qualify for the $1,000 prize offered by the Tidningen to the winner of the race, but his ride brought him an infinitely more handsome profit in fees for radio, theater and television appearances, and for commercial sponsorships. He received $600 a day for appearing in an ice show at Goteborg's " Coney Island," and $150 for appearing in another ice show. But the greatest pleasure for Gustav was the satisfaction that he had effectively replied to the young doctors who had suggested that he was more suited to a rocking chair than a marathon cycle race.