Athlete of the Week: Ilkka Herola (FIN)
It has well and truly been a dark time for Team Finland after legend Hannu Manninen ended his career for the first time and other hopefuls like Anssi Koivuranta or Janne Ryynänen ultimately fizzled out.
With patience and persistence, time and good basic work, head coach Petter Kukkonen and youth coach Antti Kuisma overcame these trying times, mainly also with the help of one athlete, who has been carrying the weight of Finnish expectations since being seventeen years old: Ilkka Herola.
It was mainly his results, decent and growing better and better that kept Finnish hopes alive and allowed the other, partly even younger athletes like Eero Hirvonen, Leevi Mutru or reigning Junior World Champion Arttu Mäkiaho to mature a little more shielded and protected that Herola had the luxury to. Eero Hirvonen’s meteoric rise to four podium results in 2017 is a testimony to this fact.
On the past weekend, Team Finland and Herola personally threw off the last dark shadows of the past: over two years since his first podium result in Lillehammer in 2015, Herola finally returned to the top three in the individual event on Saturday and the Finnish team consisting of Mutru, Mäkiaho, Hirvonen and Herola finally returned to a team event podium, over eleven years after Ville Kähkönen, Jaakko Tallus, Anssi Koivuranta and Hannu Manninen last did it in Val di Fiemme.
No wonder that there were smiling faces wherever you looked in Team Finland. And even if great success means new great responsibilities, like braving press a conference in alleged “rally english”, the new strength of Team Finland keeps manifesting in this season. With this additional “head wind” of new found confidence, Team Finland but also Ilkka Herola himself cannot be discarded as candidates for Olympic success and for sure not as a candidate for the “Athlete of the Week”. Congratulations and Godspeed, Ilkka Herola!