Kukkonen: "There’s a new generation coming in Finland"
After a quite dark time in the past, the wind of change is blowing through the Finnish team. With a new head coach, new sponsoring methods and young athletes, all things seem to be fresh and shining in the northern nation with the big Nordic Combined tradition. Head coach Petter Kukkonen shared some insights.
Petter, you have just taken over the role as head coach in Finland. Can you describe your goals and training philosophy? What do you hope to achieve with your athletes during the winter?
Petter Kukkonen: Yes, I am a new person in this job, but basically I've known all the athletes for years since I have been working with them when they were still juniors. Concerning my training philosophy, I can say that at this point, I would like to keep everything stupid simple. Our training culture has faced some challenges lately, simply put, we haven’t been training enough. What we have done now is raise the training volume and try to change athletes attitude to a more professional direction. We are now trying to build a strong basis based on “good old methods” for the new generation. This is one huge goal for us in big picture: to raise new talented juniors to top. For the next winter, I just hope you will be able to see a positive trend compared to last season. Finland has been struggling for the last couple of seasons, so I’d like to see that we have taken a step into a better direction.
Could you tell us a bit more about your way to become head coach in Finland now? What did you do after ending your career?
Kukkonen: I finished my so called “career” in 2004. During the same year, I went to University in Jyväskylä to study sport and health sciences and coaching and testing as a minor subject. After four years, I had to take a break as it was impossible to combine coaching in Estonia and studying in Finland. The break has lasted until these days and it seems, I will be one of those students who never graduate. Anyways, I spent five years in Estonia, four years with NC-team and one year with SJ-team. I was planning to continue in Estonia until Sochi 2014, but suddenly I found myself at home. (laughs)
How is the structure in the team in regards to coaching and service? Who is responsible for what?
Kukkonen: I am responsible for training camps, competitions and building the new system from juniors to seniors. Athletes also have their own trainers at home with whom I co-operate closely and plan individual steps for each athlete. Jari Hiekkavirta works as a physiotherapist (also second serviceman in winter) and Matti Haavisto is responsible for cross-country ski service. Antti Kuisma is the coach in the junior team. We have lots of camps together, so one could say we're all building the system together.
What are your plans for the rest of the off-season until the WC start in Lillehammer?
Kukkonen: The national team has been having a hiking camp in Vuokatti at the moment. Then we have a camp lasting for 13 days in Vuokatti/Lahti in October including first snow skiing and last summer jumps. In addition to that, we will have two weeks of snow camp before Lillehammer, probably in Vuokatti and Ruka, which will also include the first snow competition in Rovaniemi.
After Hannu Manninen ended his career and Anssi Koivuranta changed the discipline, the Finnish team did not have any athlete who was able to follow in their footsteps. As of now, you're having a really young team which probably needs some time until the results start to speak for themselves. What do you think can be the goals for the winter?
Kukkonen: It’s true, there’s a new generation coming in Finland. Only Janne Ryynänen could be called the experienced one. I am sure, Janne wants to reach for the Top 10 in overall standings for upcoming winter. He has been very motivated for the whole summer and all of the parameters are looking good. His key point is skiing and that’s the thing we have tried to develop. For the rest of our athletes I can say they have finally understood they must work hard. Last year, many of them took a step forward and I hope they can follow the same path. It’s clear they still need lots of speed in the skiing track.
The current situation for you and the Nordic Combined athletes in Finland is difficult. Can you describe under which conditions you have to work and what the main problems are?
Kukkonen: It’s not a secret that we are not doing well in money-wise, but I don’t want to speculate what will happen, if we can’t solve these problems… All the things we do must be simple and cheap but I think the situation will get better if we manage to bring athletes close to the top. I think, there are also some positive things about to come. A group of professionals in marketing has given us a hand and created a huge project which should help us. They are using a brand new method in sports marketing, so it’s really interesting to see what will happen. As far as I can tell, the idea looks really promising! The project starts in October and will last until next spring.
There has also been a lot of negative media attention in Finland during the past season. Is the negative media coverage affecting the team spirit and how do you deal with it?
Kukkonen: I have to admit that the whole ski association hasn’t been working properly last year. No success, collapsed training culture, disbelieve in the Finnish system… Of course, these bad feeling inside also reflect on the outside and then it’s easy for the media to catch onto this and produce the kind of stories about how bad we are actually doing. Inside the team we have decided to turn all the negative things to the opposite. We really want to change our attitude, we want to change the way we train and what kind of picture we present to the general public and the media.
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