Petter Kukkonen (39) became head coach of Finlands Nordic Combined team in April 2012.
The Junior World Champion from 2000 joined this weeks Tuesday Talk to share the best moments of his coaching career so far, to explain the strengths and importance of Vice World Champion Ilkka Herola and to reveal his goals for the upcoming Olympic season.
Petter, you have been the head coach of the Finnish national team since 2012 and have celebrated numerous successes. Is there a moment that you particularly fondly think back on?
Who knows, I have been in this position far too long. I have been thinking, maybe somebody else could have achieved much greater results with the team.
Anyway, for me as a coach all those small steps athletes take on a daily basis are a core element of my job. Steps can be taken inside of their heads or physically, it doesn’t matter. If I am only looking at the top results, I'd say Mr. Herola's silver medal last winter (editors note: at the Nordic World Ski Championships in Oberstdorf), was a very special moment for me and the whole team. Because of this medal too many people have seen a clip of the Finnish coach behaving abnormal and below all international standards. (laughs) I'd also like to add a victory and podiums in Team Sprint and Team Events as very special moments, because it meant winning something together.
Ilkka Herola has been a fixture in the World Cup for many years. What positive effects does his constancy have on the rest of the team?
I am pretty sure NC wouldn't exist in Finland anymore if Ilkka wasn't there. He has been shouldering us for so many years. During this time he has also taken huge steps mentally and is now a team leader, who can move so called “silent information” from more experienced athletes to youngsters. He is a role model and a positive example for the other team members but especially for the Juniors in Finland. Ilkka is a smart guy outside the sport field too and I am proud I can be a part of his coaching process.
At the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Oberstdorf two highlights occurred for your team: Ilkka won the silver medal in the Gunderson on the normal hill and the women celebrated their first ever World Championship competition. What impact will these successes have on the future of Nordic Combined in Finland?
Ilkka's medal had a huge impact on the NC family in Finland. It was a long wait for 14 years without a single senior medal. So, he kind of returned the belief thats it's possible to score medals, even if you live in a cold and dark part of the world. When it comes to women, I am happy to see they are taking their first steps in NC. We have also launched a project for females in Finland and I truly hope women have a future in this great sport. So, Oberstdorf was a signal also to young girls in Finland, it's worth trying and there are dreams to catch not only in Cross Country and Ski Jumping, but also in Nordic Combined.
Last season wasn't easy. What part of “normality” are you looking forward to the most in the upcoming winter?
To travel and live without masks. Covid takes so much time, money and energy.
But there was also a cruel game going on when it came to body measurements and jumping suits. I wish we, as wise people, would learn to respect rules, other teams and behave like a family. If FIS has a pure will to do it’s job, they need to speak up and stand behind these values.
An Olympic season is just around the corner. Are there any changes in summer training regarding the preparation for the season highlight?
No, there aren’t major changes, just some small adjustments in the jumping technique. We are also looking for a new technician as Janne Ahonen got a permanent job in his home town and can't continue with us. Then, of course, high altitude training will be an important part of the Cross Country practice, although this is not new for us. It’s already the third year we are focusing on this kind of preparation, so I expect our athletes to be ready for the altitude we will face in Beijing.
As a traditional Nordic nation, Finland is a favorite for medals. What are your goals and how do you prepare your athletes for the pressure?
We want to win gold. Although winning medals is not the whole life. Even sport itself is not the whole life.
Therefore, we try to develop the athletes mental skills to prepare them for life itself. There has to be enough perspective for them to live a civil life after their active career. I believe this is a strong base to build other skills on and experience successful days in their sport and personal life as well.