Tapio Mäkelä won his first Finnish Championship in 1948 in the relay. His second and last Finnish title came in 1952 at 18 km. Mäkelä made his international début at the 1950 World Championships, where he was 12th in the 18 km. At the 1952 Winter Olympic Games he won gold as a member of the Finnish relay team, but lost to Norwegian Hallgeir Brenden by 35 seconds in the 18 km and had to settle for a silver medal. At the 1954 World Championships Mäkelä again won a gold in the relay and was fifth at 15 km. Mäkelä was an office worker and was the president of the sports club Kaipolan Vire from 1965-70.