Supported by Manninen‘s wife Heli and his first national coach, Jyri Pelkonen, Nordic Combined Awards Jury member Paolo Romanò traced the profile of one of the most iconic Nordic Combined athletes in history.
After more than twenty years of competitions, battles, hard training, victories, domination and great returns for Hannu Manninen, the home World Cup in Lahti was to be the last of Manninen‘s unique and glorious career in Nordic Combined . After returning to the sport to compete in one last World Championships and Olympics, Manninen believes it is right to give space to the young athletes, who are progressing so well in the Finnish team.
In these last two years, the winningest athlete of all time in Nordic Combined has sacrificed a lot of family time and his full-time job as an airplane pilot trying to help the Finnish team winning a medal in a team event. He has always been, and will always be, a unique example of elegance, extreme athleticism and great professionalism in the exercise of his beloved discipline and also in life outside sport.
Never a controversy, never a discussion, a word out of place or going out of line, which is rare in a hyper-competitive environment like sports. A true gentleman to all the people he had to interact with in these twenty years in the spotlight, may they be opponents, team mates, coaches, managers, the media or the public that has always loved him for his frugality combined with an enormous availability for everyone. In true Manninen style, even his final farewell has taken place without too much clamor or exaggerated sensationalism.
It was easy to foresee a sport career for the myth of the Finnish Nordic Combined since childhood, as well as the career of an airplane pilot was in his destiny after "concluding his first life " in Nordic Combined. Born in April 1978 in Rovaniemi and more precisely in the „district of the champions ", in Nivavaara, Hannu Kalevi Manninen has been introduced to Nordic sports by his father Jorma who has always been very active as manager in his historic skiclub, Ounasvaaran Hiihtonseura.
Located in the east of Rovaniemi, on the road to the famous village of Santa Clause, Nivavaara is characterized by the sight of the famous Hs 100 hills, which can practically be seen from every corner of its lush streets as well as having the Rovaniemi airport right on the doorstep and airplanes ascending or descending almost residents’ heads during the day.
After starting cross-country skiing at a young age, "Juhi“ started with Nordic Combined following his elder brother Kari, who joined the national team a few years before him. The whole Manninen family was involved so actively in nordic disciplines. It should be remembered that Manninen‘s younger sister Pirjo was a successful cross-country skiier in the first decade of the century and won three gold medals at the cross-country skiing world championships in sprint and relay.
To describe the rest of his long and remarkable career that started internationally with the Lillehammer Olympics 1994 at the age of 15, we can draw on numbers that, however, only partially represent Hannu's true greatness and his character, which has left a massive imprint on a sport for real „supermen“ who combine two totally different disciplines.
4 World Cup overall (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007)
48 World cup win (record still unbeaten)
90 World Cup podiums (record still unbeaten)
1 World Championships individual gold medal (Sapporo 2007)
1 Olympic Games gold medal -team- (Salt Lake City 2002)
2 World Championships gold medal -team- (Ramsau 1999, Sapporo 2007)
1 Olympic Games silver and bronze medal -team- (Nagano 1998 , Turin 2006)
1 World Championships silver medal -team- (Trondheim 1997)
2 World Championships bronze medal -team- (Lahti 2001 , Valdifiemme 2003 )
Hannu’s wife Heli Manninen and his first team coach Jyri Pelkonen helped us to get a closer, more authentic look on the man behind these results.
His lifelong company, an teacher in primary school and mother to the couple’s three children, speaks of the Hannu Manninen in „civilian clothes“: "Hannu is amazingly skilled in focusing and organising his time. Last year, our family of five had a rich and at the same time challenging time when Hannu has been training, competing and working as a pilot for Finnair and still raised our three children with great energy. I believe our children will remember these years and the role model their father was to them - never give up, reach your dreams and nothing is impossible. Hannu has always been a great father to our children, a thoughtful husband and even a great cook. Our kitchen is his territory, he makes the best lasagne. All our moments lived together, with joys and tears, ups and downs, are important for me. The trip we took together with the team to the Sapporo World Champs has been a memorable moment for all of us. I am proud of him and our family. "
The Finnish coach of his triumphs at the turn of the century, Jyri Pelkonen focuses on Manninen as an athlete and hard worker. "In sport Hannu has always been work-oriented, concentrated in training and has always had the killer insinct during every race. In training and preparing the events, he did what was to be done precisely and patiently, not questioning if it was that right way or how long it would take. Hannu really trusted the team staff to stay on the right track. The team staff tried to earn and repay this confidence as well as they could. Mistakes are a part of this business – disappointments were handled openly, immediately and analyzed as a part of learning process. Hannu has always been an example for all the other team members. His innate attitude ha been refined even further during his career. Already after his first Olympics, when he was only 15 years old it was easy to see that this hungry young guy from Rovaniemi was a Talent with a big letter and reaching the top of world in Nordic Combined was his goal. His sporting background allowed him to quickly learn jumping and cross-countr techniques. I remember that in the mid 90’s, I was quite worried about Hannu’s enormous training load during the Christmas break – is he still able to compete on World Cup level in January or will he be too tired? Later it was easy to say that the athlete and his father-coach Jorma knew what they were doing. Working, coaching and traveling with Hannu for so many years has really been a great privilege for me."
So now there will be no more official jumps from the hills worldwide or furious pursuits in cross-country races but in the future, there will be intercontinental flights with Finnair airplanes, which we are sure will as masterfully piloted as Manninen’s sportive career was. And surely more time to share with his beloved wife Heli and three beautiful children.And last but not least, as a true lover of sport in any form, we are sure that there will soon be a new sportive challenge to be completed successfull, in true Manninen style .
Hyvää matka kapteeni Manninen!