Six-time Olympian Juha Hirvi to carry Finnish flag at Beijing opening ceremonies
Sydney rifle-shooting silver medallist Juha Hirvi is to carry the Finnish flag at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on Friday.
Hirvi said he already had an inkling that the task would be given to him, but confirmation came on Wednesday from the Olympic squad leadership.
The 48-year-old marksman was a fairly obvious choice on several grounds. For a start, he is taking part in his sixth Summer Olympics, having been selected for all the games since Seoul in 1988.
Hirvi is also one of only two members of the 58-strong Finnish contingent in Beijing to know what it is to have an Olympic medal around his neck. The other member - discus thrower Frantz Kruger - admittedly won his bronze medal in Sydney eight years ago as a representative of South Africa.
A third consideration is that Hirvi's events - he will be taking part in the 50 m rifle Prone and 50 m rifle Three Positions - do not appear on the programme until next week.
Juha Hirvi's sixth appearance at the Summer Olympics is a record that he will share with the dressage rider Kyra Kyrklund in Beijing and with three earlier Winter Olympics athletes: cross-country skiers Marja-Liisa and Harri Kirvesniemi and ice hockey player Raimo Helminen.
Kyra Kyrklund, 56, is the oldest member of the team, and she will take part in her sixth games on condition that her mount Max (the youngest team-member at just 13) recovers by next Wednesday from a slight fever he has been running.
The horse's temperature was only marginally above normal on Wednesday, and all other signs are good.
Max has been kept apart from the other horses and is under observation. The decisive medical examination is on Sunday, by which time everything ought to be in good order.
Kyrklund is no stranger to nail-biting over her mount's health: but for injury or illness to her horse in 2000 and 2004, this would be her eighth Olympic appearance. She has placed 5th in the dressage event on no fewer than three occasions in the past.
The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing will be opened on Friday evening at 20:08 local time, or 15:08 Finnish time, and will be shown live on YLE TV2 from 14:40.
Finns are not anticipating any huge haul from Beijing: a readers' survey carried out for the Tampere daily Aamulehti suggested that 30% believed the team would bring back either no medals or at best one medal. Some 28% voted for two medals, just under 20% thought a third might be forthcoming, and only 6% had faith in a fourth.
Helsingin Sanomat readers appear to be even more pessimistic. Nearly half of those who voted online on Thursday morning felt the score would be 0 or 1.
The official target set by the Finnish Olympic Committee is three medals, of which one should be gold in colour. In Athens four years ago, Finns collected two silver medals, and in Sydney there were four medals, including two gold ones.
Back in 1924, things were very different: Finland grabbed second place with 37 medals, including 14 golds. But then we had Paavo Nurmi and Ville Ritola on the team - between them they collected seven individual athletics medals (five of them gold) and a pair of team gold medals. "Flying Finn" Nurmi's total take from three games (1920-1928) was a dizzying nine golds and three silvers.
Finnish Team in Beijing, 2008