Few Finnish athletes rose to the occasion in London
Finland could have harvested much more success at the 2012 Olympics had the athletes even equalled their best results of the season
By Riku Teiskonlahti
A triple-whammy victory in the men’s javelin, two gold medals in sailing, medals in the hammer, on the canoeing track, and at the shooting range.
A utopian fantasy dreamed up by some armchair patriot?
No, not exactly.
It is something that Finland could have achieved at the London Olympics, had others of our athletes than merely Tuuli Petäjä stepped up to the plate on the big stage.
Hindsight is the salt of sports, but in reality the 2012 Olympic Games medals table makes depressing reading from the Finnish point of view.
The official objective set by the Finnish Olympic Committee was achieved in London, but very few athletes of the 56-strong team Finland achieved their season’s best, let alone their career best results in their respective disciplines.
Helsingin Sanomat divided the Finnish Olympic athletes in three categories: the overachievers, those who maintained their current results level, and the underwhelming.
The clear winner among the Finnish success stories is windsurfer Tuuli Petäjä, who took a silver medal, even though she finished only seventh in a World Cup event in Weymouth earlier in the summer, and was ranked 17th in last year’s preliminary games.
At this year’s World Championships in Spain Petäjä came in 11th. An "ordinary" performance in Weymouth would have seen her well down the field.
Of the Finnish track and field athletes, the most positive surprise came from Jarkko Kinnunen, 28, who came in 15th in the gruelling men’s 50-kilometre walk.
Swimmer Matti Mattson, 18, in turn, finished 17th in the men’s 200-metre breaststroke event.
Though neither came close to a medal, both athletes produced their season’s best results in London.
Few athletes made it to the overachievers’ list from other disciplines.
Those who did were in the same category as Kinnunen and Mattson, in the sense that performing above their customary level still did not elevate them that high in the final standings.
After Petäjä, the best result among the overachievers was produced by Finland’s only taekwondo athlete Suvi Mikkonen, who finished in a shared fifth place in London, despite the fact that she was ranked only 16th before the Games.
Considering their starting point, rider and horse Emma Kanerva and Spirit achieved a decent amount of points in the Special phase of the Grand Prix Dressage event, but in the final results they, too, failed to climb high enough to qualify among the 18 who progressed to the sharp end of the competition.
Those who maintained their current performance level
The season’s best result was produced by swimmer Hanna-Maria Seppälä in the women’s 100-metre freestyle event and by sprinter Jonathan Åstrand in the men’s 200-metre race.
Likewise walker Antti Kempas (50 km) and marathon runner Leena Puotiniemi produced their season’s best results in London.
That said, they did both compete in their first races of the season at the Olympics.
In tennis and badminton, the Finnish Olympic athletes’ journey ended more or less where expected.
Nevertheless, the fact that Ville Lång managed to take a set off the top seed in the entire men's badminton tournament will remain as one of the Finnish champagne moments from these Olympics.
In the much-cherished javelin, the only Finn who was able to maintain his customary level was bronze medallist Antti Ruuskanen.
In the sailing, medals were expected from Sari Multala (7th) and the boat crewed by Silja Lehtinen, but of them only the latter succeeded. A gold medal for both would have required a good deal less in the overachievement department than Petäjä produced in winning her silver medal.
This is regrettably the longest of the three compiled lists.
The tailenders of Team Finland were male pole vaulter Jere Bergius and female javelin thrower Sanni Utriainen, who both failed to produce any result whatsoever - three failed attempts at 5.35, three no-throws.
Men’s javelin surprise gold medallist Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago would have had to settle for the unwelcome fourth place had Tero Pitkämäki and Ruuskanen equalled their season’s best results and had Ari Mannio managed to improve on his season’s personal best result by twenty or so centimetres.
For David Söderberg, equalling his season’s best of 78.83 metres would have earned the bronze medal in the men’s hammer throw. Even a 1.30-metre shorter effort, equalling his season’s best, would have earned him some Olympic points for 6th place.
Likewise, air pistol shooter Kai Jahnsson would have made it to the podium, had he produced the same result as he did in a World Cup even in London in the spring. He eventually finished 8th.
In the women’s kayak single event, Finland's Jenni Mikkonen had a podium finish in two of the three World Cup events this year. In London she only made it to the B-final, which she admittedly won handily.
Wrestler Rami Hietaniemi made it to the Olympic team thanks to his bronze medal at last year’s World Championships.
His Olympic involvement was shortlived, as he was despatched in his first match.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 14.8.2012
More on this subject:
EDITORIAL: No great cause for satisfaction in London medals haul
London Olympics: Finland
Finland at the 2012 Olympics (Wikipedia)
RIKU TEISKONLAHTI / Helsingin Sanomat