Finland expects... Olympic success from its sailors
Wrestlers Matti Kettunen and Jarkko Ala-Huikku are in an interesting situation when it comes to competing for a seat on the Olympic plane
The days are gone, long gone, when Finland could look forward every four years to bringing back a big haul of medals from the Summer Olympics.
The vast blue-and-white liveried teams of bygone years are no more, and Finnish representation at major events like the Olympics or the Athletics World Championships is now more in keeping with a small country of five million, and not the old sporting superpower regime.
In Beijing four years ago, the country won just one gold medal, in the women's trap shooting.
Track and field athletics, once a veritable goldmine, produced a solitary bronze medal.
Still, at least 30 Finnish sportsmen and sportswomen will be seen in this summer’s Olympic Games in London.
This is so far the size of the Finnish team, after the second round of the selections, which added 22 new names to the list.
In this selection round the sailors took centre stage, and it is not that far-fetched to think that they might also make the biggest headlines when sailing in the waters of the English Channel off Weymouth.
The Sari Multala, Silja Lehtinen duo, Tapio Nirkko, and brothers Joonas and Niklas Lindgren are among the hot names of Finnish sports sailing. An Olympic medal is a real possibility with this group.
“I am one of the most experienced sailors in our class”, said Sari Multala, who competes in the Laser Radial class.
This will be Multala’s third attempt at the Olympic level.
It could have been her fourth, had Tuula Tenkanen not snatched the place in the Beijing Olympics after a tangled selection process.
“Once I decided that I wanted to go to the London Games, of course it is a big deal to get selected”, Multala explained. “That said, life did go on even when I did not make it to Beijing.”
Before the Olympic Games, which are to commence towards the end of July, the strongest medal expectations now lie on Multala’s shoulders.
At the World Championships recently she finished third, but the achievement was partly overshadowed by the Ice Hockey World Championships. Multala was also crowned world Champion in the Laser Radial class in 2009 and 2010, meaning that she is definitely not going to Weymouth just to make up the numbers.
So, what kind of pressure does it put on a person to be the favourite medal contender?
“I cannot sail the competition beforehand. People always expect success, but this is a much more delicate discipline than, say, a hundred-metre sprint. Someone who has clocked a fast time in 100 metres can be expected to repeat the effort in the Olympics. In sailing there is often an ante-post favourite, but the gold medal goes to a surprise winner”, Multala analysed.
In this selection round, sailing played the main part owing to the fact that the athletics season is only just beginning.
Marathon runner Jussi Utriainen’s selection formed an exception.
He secured his seat on the Olympic plane by finishing a recent competition inside the B qualifying time. In men’s marathon he will be the only Finnish entrant.
On the wrestling side the situation is interesting.
Matti Kettunen has secured an entry for a Finn in the under-60 kilogram class, but Jarkko Ala-Huikku, too, is aspiring to wrestle in London.
The Finnish Wrestling Federation has adopted a pragmatic approach to the situation.
A question has been filed with the Sports Legal Protection Committee with regard to internal competence tests.
In the javelin scandal of last summer’s World Championships in Athletics, the Sports Legal Protection Committee eventually reshuffled the Finnish trio that was sent to the games.
The Wrestling Federation wants to avoid creating a similar mess.
So, will you be asking the two men to wrestle each other, Sports Director of the Finnish Olympic Committee Kari Niemi-Nikkola?
"Absolutely not. Kettunen is the first choice when it comes to the country quota”, was Niemi-Nikkola’s answer.
Ala-Huikku may possibly try to enter competitions in Russia or Germany to prove his competence. Kettunen no longer needs to convince anybody.
But what if Ala-Huikku knocks over one opponent after another in some tournament in Russia? How would the Olympic Committee react to that?
Previously in HS International Edition:
Rowers Stén and Nieminen bring back third medal from Beijing (18.8.2008)
Medals haul represents lowest point in Finnish Olympic history (30.8.2004)
Satu Mäkelä-Nummela wins gold in Beijing women´s trap event (11.8.2008)
Finland at the Olympics (Wikipedia)
Finland at the 2008 Summer Olympics (Wikipedia)