Five fabulous fast-finishing Finns at the Olympic Winter Games

With the opening cross-country skiing and Nordic combined events of the 2021-22 season taking place in Ruka, Finland this weekend, brings you five Finnish Winter Olympic success stories ahead of Beijing 2022 in February.

By Jo Gunston
Picture by 2014 Getty Images

With the opening events of the cross country and Nordic combined World Cups happening in Ruka, Finland this weekend, plus the second Large Hill World Cup ski jumping competition of the season, shares stories of fast-finishing Finns at Olympic Winter Games ahead of the Beijing 2022 starting 4 February.

Photo finish

Presumably Veikko Hakulinen’s lucky number must have been three. Not only was Finland’s greatest sporting icon of the 1950s a three-time Olympic champion but his gold medal-winning time in claiming his first Olympic gold – in the 50km cross-country skiing race at Oslo 1952 – was 3:33.33.

Four years later in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, Hakulinen won gold in the 30km and silver in both the 50km and relay races.

By the 1960 Games in California, Hakulinen was still stockpiling medals, winning silver in the 50km – compatriot Kalevi Hämäläinen pipped him for the gold – and in the 15km he picked up a bronze. The relay, however, saw one of Hakulinen’s best ever performances.

Having started the final leg 20 seconds behind Hallgeir Brenden, Hakulinen pulled back the Norwegian’s lead to win gold following a dramatic sprint to the finish.

After winning seven Olympic cross-country skiing medals, Hakulinen switched sports to compete in biathlon. Not surprisingly he was the fastest skier in the 20km race at Innsbruck 1964 but it was the shooting that let him down – missing six shots on the range left him in 15th place.

Finn finished

Heikki Hasu not only won the Nordic combined event at the 1948 Olympic Winter Games in St Moritz, Switzerland, but he made history while he was at it. Up until that point Norway had swept all the medals in the discipline at every Games. The 21-year-old Finn was the first to break that run.

His strength in the skiing leg left him with enough of a margin going into the ski jumping aspect to comfortably win gold, beating compatriot Martti Huhtala. Hasu also finished a creditable fourth in 18km cross country skiing competition.

Hasu upsets the odds in Nordic combined

The next Olympic Winter Games were in Oslo, though, and the Norwegians wanted their title back. This time it was Hasu’s weakest event first – ski jumping – where he came fifth but another outstanding skiing performance took him up to the silver medal position, just behind the host nation’s Simon Slåttvik.

Hasu gave his team a big lead on the first leg of the relay with his team-mates doing the rest. Finland once more beat the formerly dominant Norwegians and Hasu is still the only athlete who has won Olympic gold in both Nordic combined and cross-country skiing in the post-war era.

Finnish first

In the first ever-Olympic cross country-skiing competition for women, Finland completed a full sweep of medals at the 10km discipline. Lydia Wideman won gold at Oslo 1952, while 21-year-old Mirja Hietamies claimed silver and Siiri Rantanen, bronze.

At Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956, Hietamies finished sixth in the 10km race but it was the relay where the Finns again made their mark. The Soviet Union were now a force in the women’s event and were favourite to win gold, but Hietamies cut a 24-second deficit on the second to just six seconds. Rantanen did the rest on the anchor leg and it was gold again for the Finns.

Hietamies retired from major competitions after the Cortina Games. After a brief return in which she fell short of qualifying for the 1960 Games in California she then worked as a bus driver before founding her own transport company.

Finishing on a high

It was the Finns who came up with now standard air position in ski jumping – a v-shape of the skis and arms by the side instead of arms held out front a la Superman – although at first they were ridiculed for the form.

The first to make the most of this development was Antti Hyvärinen, who hailed from the official home of Santa Claus – Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland. Hyvärinen had come seventh at Oslo 1952, his first Olympic Games. Despite a bad crash on New Year’s Eve in 1955, he still won the Finnish Olympic trials so was picked to go to Cortina d’Ampezzo in 1956.

In third place after the first round, his second jump of 84m took him into first place and, eventually, the gold medal to make history as the first none-Norwegian athlete to win an Olympic ski competition. Finland also won silver by virtue of Hyvärinen’s team-mate Aulis Kallakorpi.

This was to be Hyvärinen’s last Olympic Games after a hip injury the following year ruled him out of further competitions. So the Finn left the Olympic arena on quite the high note; Olympic champion.

From start to Finnish

The notoriously placid Iivo Niskanen punched the air in delight after winning the endurance-laden 50km mass start classic at PyeongChang 2018. The Finn managed to break away from tenacious ROC athlete Alexander Bolshunov to claim gold.

The victory saw the 26-year-old double his own Olympic gold medal tally having also won the team sprint at Sochi 2014 with Sami Jauhojärvi.

The World Cup events taking place in Ruka, Finland this week are:
25-28 November Men’s Nordic combined event
26-28 November Men’s Large Hill Ski Jumping
26-28 November Men’s and Women’s cross country skiing events – 10km & 15km classic, and 10km and 15km pursuit


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