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Cue the eye roll – Finland was a “failure” at the Olympics

March 5, 2018

(Disclaimer – I spent most of February being really sick with the worst cold ever, so hence no posts last month. Thank goodness for the Olympics though! There is plenty to talk about.)

The collective national hand wringing began even before the Winter Olympics concluded. I pretty much wanted to eat my hat when I saw the headline from YLE in English prior to the conclusion of the games : “Finland’s Olympic let-down

Up until that point, Finland had four medals and then got two more over the weekend to round out the total to six. Cross-country skiers Iivo Niskanen and Krista Pärmäkoski secured gold and silver in the men’s 50km and women’s 30km respectively. Both were great moments. I even got out of bed early on Saturday, February 24 to watch the 50km, and again on Sunday morning to follow the men’s gold medal hockey game and the women’s 30km. Olympic fever? Yes, definitely!

A few of Finland’s athletes who were expected to “perform” included Mika Poutala, Kaisa Mäkäräinen, the men’s hockey team, both the men’s and women’s cross-country skiing relay teams, the mixed curling team and the snowboarding crew (except Enni Rukajärvi). They fell short, which yes, was disappointing – but jeez – enough with the over the top pressure! It’s fair to say that other athletes had a good day. Finland’s winter athletes are among some of the best in the world – period. The arm chair pundits can just stop with the criticism any time… I actually figured Finland would get 6-7 medals, but Krista Pärmäkoski was a big surprise for me.

Yes, Finland is clearly in the shadow of Norway and Sweden when it comes to the value placed on winter sports. The Guardian summarized some of the reasons why Norway is much more successful than other countries. To put it simply, “No jerks allowed”, “Community spirit” and “Sport for all.” I can live with that. Give this a read, it is interesting.

There has been so much discussion in recent months in Finland about sport, women in sport, para-athletes, kids in sport and so on, so I may have missed the boat on some important things happening in the Finnish sporting world right now. My observations – feel free to dispute my ideas, but this is what I see when it comes to sports in this country:

  • I feel that some money is being driven to sports that are too expensive and out of reach for most families: alpine skiing, snowboarding and hockey. Once you hit the elite level, it gets very expensive to continue.
  • More value is being placed on E-sports… Why? We need physical activity, stop glorifying gaming so much. Kids already spend enough time staring at electronic devices – drop them and get outside!
  • Girls are still being sidelined in the sporting world and this needs to change.
  • On the health front, Finns are a really self-destructive lot. I have lamented about this in the past. Alcohol is a serious public health problem in this country and young Finns are among the most obese in Europe. Why aren’t we taking better care of ourselves?
  • There are great role models out there, we need to see more of them!

Suggestions:

  • Sport should be fun, not competitive. I have been coaching ringette and assistant coaching girl’s hockey in Espoo for about five years. Our coaching leads remind us that it should be fun. 10-11 year-olds don’t need to be worrying about competing just yet.* We need to take a page out of the book of the Norwegians (re: The Guardian article linked above.).
  • Make cross-country skiing more attractive again. Right now, this is where Finnish athletes are proving their stuff. This country has had good cross-country skiers for a long time, we need to keep them coming.
  • Find a way to get more Finns into short track speed skating. For those kids who quit figure skating and hockey – speed skating is an excellent alternative. The head coach of the Finnish speed skating program, Janne Hänninen, acknowledged that getting ice time was a real barrier for kids to get into short track. (I heard this discussed on the radio station YLE Puhe during the Olympics.) If Finland wants to be competitive on the winter sports front – then build more arenas!
  • Drive more money into curling – this is a sport that Finland should be good at!
  • I have also written in the past that Finland needs to develop a program like Canada’s “Own the Podium,” which invests widely in sport across the country. It has produced results, Canada has now been extremely successful in the Winter Olympics since Vancouver 2010 in terms of medal results and top 10 finishes. It can’t be that hard to design the same kind of program in Finland.
  • The old boys club needs to go on the sporting front. Finland needs to get more women into paid head coaching positions and administrative positions. There is change coming on that front, but it’s slow going.
  • Again on the coaching front – don’t assume that a Finnish coach is the best alternative for this country’s athletes. Bringing in foreign expertise may be just the perspective athletes in this country need.
  • And finally: the media. For the love of… Start giving women more credit where it’s due… But that’s another story – and it’s coming.

*Just to let you know – we do try to make it fun for our ringette crew. A few weeks ago, their warm-ups were snowball rolling, and it was great fun.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2018 7:20 pm

    Hey, great article and great blog! I’m so glad I’ve found this. I coach the women’s rugby 7s team here in Finland and I think the point you brought up about short track speed skating is really applicable to rugby too. There are so many sprinters and field sport athletes who will move away from sport because they simply won’t make it to the top level. We would love to be able to attract these athletes to give them an alternative route to the Olympics but unfortunately the cost for the athlete (around 3000e per year and a lot of time away from work / family) is just not an attractive selling point.
    We are working hard, however, and I’m sure that one day Finnish rugby will start to produce role models of it’s own for young Finns.

    Keep up the good work!

    • May 23, 2018 2:14 pm

      Ric! Thanks for weighing in here! Would love to hear more about the women’s rugby 7s team here! I can make some space for them here on this blog by interviewing you and the players – all “obscure” sports in this country deserve far more attention than they are getting!

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