Veli Saarinen was the first Finn to win an Olympic cross-country skiing gold. Saarinen made his international début at the 1926 World Championships, where he won a bronze in the 30 km and was ninth at 50 km. In the same year he also won the 30 km at the last Nordic Games, held in Stockholm. In 1927 Saarinen won the 30 km at the Lahti Ski Games. He competed next at the 1928 Winter Olympics, where he was fourth in the 18 km. At the 1929 World Championships, Saarinen won his first title in the 18 km and was a runner-up at 50 km. In 1930 Saarinen won his first Finnish title, in the 50 km, but at the 1930 World Championships he was not very successful, managing only fifth place in the 18 km and sixth place in the 50 km. In 1931 Saarinen won his second and last Finnish title, again at 50 km and he also won the 50 km at the Lahti Ski Games, which he repeated in 1933. At the 1932 Olympics, Saarinen first won a bronze in the 18 km behind two Swedes and then three days later, became the first Finnish cross-country Olympic gold medalist, beating his teammate Väinö Liikkanen by 20 seconds over 50 km. At the 1933 World Championships Saarinen won his second title, this time in the 50 km and placed fourth in 18 km. Saarinen made his last international appearance at the 1934 World Championships, where he won his third title as a member of the Finnish relay team and won a silver in the 18 km. Saarinen retired from competition after the 1934 World Championships and started to work as head coach of the German Olympic cross-country skiing team. From 1937-68 Saarinen worked as head coach of the Finnish national cross-country team, while from 1947-68 Saarinen also worked as a chief executive with the Finnish Skiing Federation.