EDITORIAL: No great cause for satisfaction in London medals haul
The Finnish Olympic Committee set a target of three medals and six "points-placings" [for a finish in the top eight, but outside the medals] from the 2012 London Olympics.
This objective was met, and in fact marginally exceeded, when the sailors and the men's javelin delivered one silver medal and two bronze medals, and seven other athletes placed between fourth and eighth.
For all that, the result does not give much cause for breast-beating and general satisfaction.
No gold medals were forthcoming (for only the second time since Finland first took part in the Olympics, before independence, in 1908), and in the case of the two bronze medals there was an aftertaste of disappointment, when shinier hardware would have been accessible with a shade more skill or good fortune.
The most pleasant surprise was to be had from a discipline to which the Finns had hitherto paid little or no attention.
The silver medal in the women's RX-S sailboard event that was won by a narrow margin saw Tuuli Petäjä standing up to the pressures of competition without demur, and she appeared unaffectedly confident of her ability both before the medals race and after she had secured her silver.
Simply by virtue of her mental toughness under fire, Petäjä would serve well as a poster-girl for the reform project now being put into place for topflight sports in this country, and it is singularly ironic that it was in part through the actions of Finnish sports decision-makers that her particular windsurfing discipline may well not be included on the programme for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Obstacles to future success are also to be found in the meeting-rooms of domestic sports federations, where the decision-makers jealously guard their turf and their authority.
The relationship between the Finnish Olympic Committee and Suomen Urheiluliitto (SUL, the Finnish Athletics Federation) is sometimes rather fraught, for instance, and this hardly eases the reform of the organisational structure. Cooperation can even be tricky inside successful disciplines: there are deep differences and conflicts between the sailors' coaching staff and the Finnish Sailing and Boating Federation.
The working group set up to look at changes in topflight sport wants to see Finland emerge as the premier sporting nation in the Nordic countries by 2020.
In London, Denmark came away with nine medals (two of them gold), Sweden got eight, including one gold medal, while Norway collected two golds, a silver, and a bronze medal, even though the Scandinavian medals hopes suffered a good many disappointments over the two weeks of competitions.
Finland has a long way to go even to get somewhere close to the Nordic average, let alone to the top of the pile.
The traditional starting-point has been to compare ourselves against the other Nordics and against other nations in general.
Sportsmen and women do represent their respective countries, but to an increasing extent they also represent their sponsors or themselves.
The public seeks out idols and individuals they can identify with on other grounds than simply the athlete's nationality - at least if they do not have any success-stories to cling to from their own country.
At the Olympics, however, national feeling is in its pomp.
A good example was to be seen from the tennis, which became a much more nationalistic event at the London Olympics than at the Wimbledon tournament on the very same surface just over a month ago.
In particular in disciplines where the individual is in play, rather than a team, the Olympics are the backbone of the topflight sports supported in this country through Veikkaus's lottery funding.
Although these Olympics points-placings (or "points finishes" - a concept apparently dear to the Finns, but not widely used) naturally represent a fine achievement by the athletes, it is medals that are required to justify the maintaining of the support system.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 14.8.2012
More on this subject:
Few Finnish athletes rose to the occasion in London
Previously in HS International Edition:
All´s well that ends (reasonably) well for Finns at London 2012 (13.8.2012)
Tuuli Petäjä opens London medals account with silver in women´s sailboard competition (8.8.2012)