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It was time: A Paralympian for Athlete of the Year

January 24, 2017

Last week I scratched something off of my bucket list: to attend the annual Finnish Sports Gala (Urheilugaala) in Helsinki. It’s my understanding that this past gala was the 10th anniversary, which is kind of a cool thing since Finland is celebrating 100 years of independence this year.

A lot of people I talked to were surprised to find out that the sports gala is open to the public and that the tickets were so cheap – only 19,50 a piece – definitely a great deal! We arrived a couple hours ahead of time so that we could check things out at the Hartwall Areena. Since it was a “gala,” we dressed up a little. The main floor was covered with a red carpet and there were lots of booths to stop at and bits of history to look at too. The Little Miss was able to snag some autographs from Ari-Pekka Liukkonen (the giant swimmer who stands at 2.09 m) and Jani Kukkola (a member of Finland’s World Champion salibandy team). It was really nice to meet these gentlemen in person and cool for the Little Miss too. 🙂 I’ll let the photos explain themselves…

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One of the highlights of the night was the Lifetime Achievement Award, which was awarded to 92 year-old Siiri  “Äitee” Rantanen and 96 year-old Lydia Widemen, who were both award winning cross-country skiers in the 1950s and early 1960s. To see both of those women make their way to the stage to accept their award was a great moment.

Leo-Pekka Tähti finally (emphasis definitely needed) won the title he has been so deserving of for many years. The reluctance of Finland’s sporting media establishment to select him as Athlete of the Year in the past just shows how unprepared they are to embrace Paralympic sport as mainstream in this country. (Thankfully Canada crossed that bridge many years ago when Chantal Petitclerc, a multiple-medal winning Paralympian in wheelchair racing, was named as Canada’s Athlete of the Year – being awarded the Lou March Trophy in 2008.)

I was really disappointed with YLE News in English, as they decided to call Tähti the “Sports Personality of the Year,” which to me does nothing more than diminish his achievements as an athlete. I’ve yet to get a confirmation from the crew at Urheilugaala that this is indeed the accepted English translation of “Vuoden urheilija.” Everyone else I have asked has said the correct translation is “Athlete of the Year.” (Update: Apparently this is related to the style of English the media outlets are using. The accepted British English translation is apparently “Sports Personality of the Year,” which is what YLE News adheres to. Fair enough, but I don’t agree with it.)

That being said, this year’s Athlete of the Year in Finland was definitely the right choice. Congratulations Leo-Pekka Tähti, your time to shine is finally here!

The daily Helsingin Sanomat had a full page spread on Tähti the following day

The daily Helsingin Sanomat had a full page spread on Tähti the following day

And I didn’t have to eat my hat… 🙂

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