Finland and Sweden renew old rivalry on the athletics track this weekend
It may not be the best place to look for a new world record or the season's fastest times and longest throws, but the annual athletics international between Finland and the neighbours from Sweden has a lot going for it in the history department.
The fiercely contested two-day competition, held today and Saturday, is the only survivor at top level of what used to be a commonplace in athletics - the international meeting in which teams from two or more countries faced off to gauge superiority in terms of points won.
Since the 1980s, and since the arrival of big bucks and things like the Golden League, this is the only show in town in that old-fashioned head-to-head respect.
Consequently the "Finnkampen" (as it is sometimes called) always gets a positive write-up on the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) website.
It has been held faithfully each and every year since 1953.
In fact the history of the meeting goes back to 1925, but there was an eight-year interregnum from 1931 to 1939 while the Finns fumed over alleged Swedish skullduggery in eventually getting our national icon Paavo Nurmi ejected from the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics for "professionalism".
The 1931 event was a pretty tense affair, with a bare-knuckle fight in the 800 metres being among the pugilistic highlights.
At the post-meet banquet,
Urho Kekkonen, then the head of the Finnish Athletics Association and later President of Finland for 25 years, famously broke off international sporting relations between the two countries.
Kekkonen, by the way, was not just a fledgling politician getting a job with good visibility - he had been the Finnish high jump champion in 1924.
Everyone shook hands in 1939, but then the war came. After 1945, with the exception of 1949 (not sure why) and 1952 (the year of the Helsinki Olympics) the Swedes and Finns have met annually, with each country hosting in alternate years.
Since 1998, the Finnish men have won on six of the ten occasions, most recently last year in Gothenburg, while among the women the Swedes will be trying for their eighth straight victory. The last time the Finnish women came out on top was in Helsinki in 2000.
Overall the Finnish men are ahead by 42 wins to 25, while the Swedish women (the women joined in somewhat later) are in front by 29-23.
The Swedish visitors will this year have other things to prove: the country's athletes did not exactly cover themselves in glory in Beijing, failing to secure a gold medal in any discipline for the first time since 1988.
The format for the meeting is straightforward enough: each team enters three athletes in each event (well, four in the relays, with one quartet from each team running) and points are scored for placing: 7-5-4-3-2-1, and 5-2 in the relays.
Times and distances are less important than winning, or at least finishing an event with more points than the other side. A 16-6 clean sweep is cheered wildly. Protests (they are quite common) are either cheered or roundly booed, depending on who is doing the protesting.
And there is no shortage of people to do the cheering and jeering. Crowds are usually large: two years ago the Olympic Stadium was almost full on the Saturday and the combined attendance was around 57,000.
The meeting is also shown live on YLE TV2 from 19:20 this evening and from 17:40 on Saturday.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finnkampen brings narrow win for men and crushing defeat for women (10.9.2007)
Honours just about even at Finnkampen athletics match (28.8.2006)
Finland-Sweden Athletics International site (in Finnish & Swedish)
IAAF: Finnkampen 2007
Finnish Athletics Federation