Team Finland - more than just a ray of hope
#fisnoco around the world: FNCA
In the second edition of #fisnoco around the world, Gabriela Gierke of the sports blog “Finnish Nordic Combined Athletes” gives some insights into the development of Team Finland, from their darkest hour to today’s promising situation and also explains her work and focal points since the foundation of her blog in 2014.
15 months have passed since Hannu Manninen's return to Nordic Combined took place in Taivalkoski (FIN). There, the today 39 year old Rovaniemi born achieved a great 4th rank in a sprint for the finish line which he lost by only 0.3 seconds. But what has happened since his retirement in 2011?
After almost all famous Finnish athletes had ended their career, the northern country seemed doomed to be forgotten regarding the discipline of Nordic Combined for most people. But already a year later the then only 17-year old Ilkka Herola entered the international competition stage. He worked hard and fought through every competition until he had established himself in World Cup and Junior World Championships. For the coming years, he was Team Finland's only first class athlete, which of course put a lot of pressure and expectations on his shoulders. But thanks to a renewed system in the national ski association, the amazing work done by long-time coaches (Petter Kukkonen, Antti Kuisma, Kimmo Savolainen and Heli Pomell for the girls) as well as devoted parents – and of course 'sisu', the Finnish endurance to fight until the very end not matter how hard the conditions are – there are now other young athletes following up in Ilkka's footsteps.
Yesterday’s toddlers on skis are the medal winners of tomorrow
It can be said that in Finland every child learns skiing as soon as they are able to walk properly and some of them also discover ski jumping at various ages. Be it girl or boy, the first competition series they compete in is the Lidl-Cup (U9/11, U13 and U15). The next stage with the FIS Youth Cup is already an international one. In the past years, Finnish athletes like Wille and Waltteri Karhumaa, Perttu Reponen, Otto Niitykoski and Atte Kettunen have been very successful there. Some of those boys also have smelled their first breaths of Continental Cup air during the past winter. But most of the time, this competition series is frequented by older athletes like for example Ilkka's brother Matti Herola, Leevi Mutru and Jussi Salo (who of course also have their more or less regular places in the World Cup team). Also Jim Härtull and Mikke Leinonen (who just ended their careers this spring) fought for points and therefore a higher starting quota for the Finnish team in both COC and World Cup. In a time with only a few long-time sponsors and less media attention, the boys learned to help each other respectively.
In the beginning of 2015, Eero Hirvonen had a big development from his 2nd rank at the COC in Klingenthal to his first World Cup starts and points. During the latest season, he collected points in all World Cup competitions he started in and finished 8th in the overall ranking, having caught up with teammate Ilkka (who finished 7th).
And although there was no long-hoped-for medal at the home World Championships in Lahti2017, the next move back to the top for Finland already came a month earlier with Arttu Mäkiaho's gold and silver medal in the individual competitions at the Junior World Championships in Park City.
Not to be forgotten are the still young but already hard working Nordic Combined girls. Pinja Koivisto, Anna-Maija Oinas, Elli Seppänen and currently 10 more athletes from the Lidl-Cup training groups will be candidates for the just established Ladies' Continental Cup in the future.
With this development, the Finnish Nordic Combined sport nowadays has more than a just little ray of hope at the end of the tunnel.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT FNCA
Finnish Nordic Combined Athletes is a sports blog, which originated on Facebook, being started in November of 2014. It offers national and international competition results, interviews, news and information about everything regarding the Finnish team as well as pictures from selected competitions.
You can find a summary of the team and staff members, all interviews, the introduction of some Finnish ski clubs and, from time to time, special articles on the website: www.fnca.weebly.com.