At least 2,000 wait until early hours to welcome Finnish ice hockey medallists
Many of the Finnish medals in Torino came from untraditional events
At least 2,000 Finnish ice hockey fans braved temperatures below -12 °C and the prospect of work or school in the morning to wait until nearly 3 a.m. last night for the return of Finland's silver-medal team from the Torino Olympics.
When the team arrived, having taken a chartered jet from Milan almost immediately after the medals ceremony, they were in better spirits than on Sunday evening.
The 2-3 defeat at the hands of Sweden still rankled, but an understanding of the value of the silver medal achievement had begun to sink in. The Finnish team were arguably the surprise of the games, and in the minds of many they were the best team on the ice in Torino, with their only defeat being reserved unfortunately for the biggest game of all.
Four of the Finnish players were included in the media All-Stars lineup, and the goaltender Antero Niittymäki was voted MVP for the entire tournament.
The team's flight was late, and those who had come out to wave flags and welcome the boys home had to stand in the cold until nearly 03:00. Many of the predominantly young well-wishers had arrived around 9 p.m. on Sunday evening, when the show started.
The players were clearly touched by the rousing reception, which was of a kind normally reserved for victorious teams. One player to receive a particularly warm welcome was veteran defenseman Teppo Numminen, who was playing his last game in a Finnish jersey. Numminen had been particularly badly cut up by the defeat to Sweden, but smiled and thanked the fans for their support. He even engaged the crowd in a little ad hoc community singing.
Hardman defender Jarkko Ruutu noticed that some of the crowd had taken off their shirts despite the cold, and felt he ought to show solidarity. When he went topless, the crowd erupted.
The Lions' captain Saku Koivu thanked the hardy supporters profusely, and commented that in his more than ten years of playing in the national squad he had never encountered the kind of team spirit felt in Torino - and that that same spirit seemed to have trickled down to the fans.
Some lucky fans were also rewarded with a few souvenirs as players, among them Koivu and the ever-popular leading goalscorer Teemu Selänne, tore off their blue team coats and hats and tossed them into the crowd.
Police estimated that more than 10,000 had been in the Market Square earlier on Sunday to watch the match on giant screens. Most slipped away quickly after the game ended.
Police also said that the afternoon and late-night gatherings had gone off without any disorder. Only a couple of fans whose consumption of refreshments had left them too tired and emotional had to be taken off to sober up.
The 20th Winter Olympics ended with Finland securing nine medals, though none were of the golden variety. Six silvers and three bronze medals made up the total. Four years ago in Salt Lake City, the haul was seven medals, but then four of them were gold.
The time for analysis of what went right and what went wrong is still ahead, but it can probably be said that the "traditional" Finnish winter sports of cross-country skiing, ski-jumping, and Nordic Combined did not deliver the goods. In the case of cross-country skiing, the sport has been somewhat in the doldrums ever since the Finnish team was involved in a doping scandal in 2001, but there had been high hopes of individual gold medals among the ski-jumpers and Nordic Combined specialists.
On the plus side must be placed the Alpine skiing, with Tanja Poutiainen getting a silver medal and Kalle Palander being denied an almost certain silver by a silly mistake in straddling a gate in the closing men's slalom event. He was disqualified.
Curling gripped the country's imagination for two weeks, and delivered a deserved silver medal. And there were good performances in some of the newer sports such as freestyle skiing and snowboarding.
And ultimately, the Finnish Lions - even in defeat - showed that ice hockey hereabouts, and in Europe generally, can teach the North Americans a thing or two. Team USA and Canada were both numbered among the Finnish victims.
Finland sent 92 athletes to the games, and thanks to some team successes, 41 will be coming home with a medal of some description around their necks.
Germany was the most successful country, with 29 medals, including 11 golds.
Reports of earlier Olympic events can be found from our Archives.