Well it was Sweden’s day throughout as their men (96 - 108pts) and women (94-111pts) built comfortable leads in front of 26,000 spectators during Day One of the annual Finland versus Sweden match - called the “Ruotsiottelu” or “Finnkampen”, depending upon your nationality - in the 1952 Olympic stadium.
The talent and competitive tenacity of World and European Triple Jump champion Christian Olsson is quite remarkable. Off the back of his win at Paris 2003 Saint-Denis and in a competition in which no other jumper bettered 15.60 metres, the dynamic 23 year-old Swede still found the motivation to bound out to a meeting record in the second round of 17.51m, and in the last round backed that win up with a 17.21m performance.
That’s the magic that this match can inspire, and surely only the “Finnkampen” could motivate an exhausted Olsson to even consider contesting the Long Jump tomorrow as well!
“I feel a bit tired but I think after a massage and a proper warm-up tomorrow morning I will be ready to do the long jump,” confirmed Olsson.
Johanna Manninen, a former European Junior 100m champion, who won the women’s 100m for the home side ahead of a trio of yellow vested Swedes in 11.40 seconds, was equally uplifted by the atmosphere.
“I had a cold and fever this week but the Swedes always make my motivation get high. If this was not the Sweden-match, my race would have been worse for sure.”
Manninen’s win came at the expense of this weekend’s Carolina Klüft road show but that’s not to say the World Heptathlon champion was off-par, never! Though finishing in third, given her tremendous season you won’t be surprised to hear that Klüft’s time of 11.53 was a personal best, a 4/100ths of a second improvement on her previous best dash.
Disappointment was temporarily all over Klüft’s face, as she could only manage 6.46 metres in the Long Jump, far below her personal best from this season of 6.86 but in any case it was good enough for the win.
Anyway given her two day schedule, Klüft had her work cut out even fitting the competition in, having to pass her sixth and final attempt in order to run the second leg for Sweden’s 4x100m relay team who won in 43.75 seconds. Not bad for a night’s work!
“No, I was not disappointed to miss my last jump," said Klüft. "Here the most important thing is the win and the points for the team…I do not now plan to run the 4x400m Relay tomorrow."
"Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be ready if the team needs me, but with the 200m and the 100m Hurdles still to come I have a enough to do,” concluded Klüft.
Stefan Holm, double World Indoor High Jump champion, who took the World silver medal in Paris last week was one Swedish star not on song, suffering a defeat at the hands of Finland’s Oskari Frösen on count-back at 2.26m.
A remarkable anniversary
It was of course no surprise that Finland’s Mikaela Ingberg, European bronze medallist and fourth at the Paris Worlds, won the women’s Javelin (60.21m) tonight but on this occasion the real story concerned one of the ‘chorus-line’ athletes and not the protagonist.
The name Elisabet Wahlander brings you to the heart of what the Finland versus Sweden match is all about. If before today her name was known to anyone except her family and a few die hard Swedish athletics followers I would be surprised.
That is no criticism of Wahlander who has been Swedish women’s javelin champion during her long career. Even this year at the age of 43 years she took second at the Swedish title meet in Norrtälje on 3 August with a season’s best of 48.72m. With the ‘new’ women’s spear she has a personal best of 53.02m from 2000.
So what, you might well ask? Her PB isn’t even the Swedish record (Annika Petersson 56.70) and her season’s best doesn’t even rank her as one of the top 250 throwers in the world this summer.
Well, the 63rd match marked Wahlander's 25th appearance at this annual ritual, three times in the junior match – yes this athletics madness has a junior double too – and on 22 occasions she has represented the Swedish senior team.
Sure it says something about the pitiless state of Swedish javelin throwing since the late 1970’s when she began throwing but it also says so much about this national ‘head to head’ confrontation, where only points and team places really count.
In her career Wahlander has competed with and finished behind Finnish spear greats such as 1983 World champion Tiina Lillak and Heli Rantanen, the 1996 Olympic gold medallist but then as now there has always been the possibility of an upset, to beat the second or third string Finnish thrower and grab an extra point or perhaps even two for the team.
There was to be no anniversary miracle today as Wahlander finished in sixth with a throw of 46.19. But while her one point might not sound much in the context of this weekend, it’s just one of the many she has amounted for Sweden over 25 years, and everything counts when tomorrow’s final team scores are totalled up.
Passions going a little too far
Team passions can though sometimes be taken a little too far. When the Finns ‘top’ men’s 400m runner Abdelghani Nouidra, who is of Moroccan decent, was ruled unfit (with leg cramps) to run just moments before the start of the race, someone in the Finnish team decided to make a subtle but illegal last minute switch, Nouidra for Stefan Koivikko, a 10.38 100m runner (at his best), whose own ancestry is from Nigeria.
Nice try but just as the runners were about to be called to their blocks the change was spotted by an official and Finland found themselves with just two competitors and one point down before the gun was even fired.
Was that a walk or a running race I was just watching? Oh both...!
Innovation has been the key to the continuing popularity of this meeting. New ideas of marketing and presentation are always being tried to keep the public entertained, and tonight's break from the norm was certainly interesting.
At 19.30hrs the start was called for both the women’s 5000m and men’s 10,000m track walk (not officially part of the overall scoring of the match) which were held together.
But no one could have been more surprised than this writer when 10 minutes later the starter fired the gun again!
Yes, a third race had begun on the track, the women’s 10,000m (running) event. With cones separating lanes four from five, dividing the track in half, the two walking races occupied the four outer lanes, while the women running the 25 laps took the inside lanes.
The judges must have had nightmare keeping on top of the potential results chaos that could have occurred but whatever the legality or merits of the system the crowd seemed to like it. I personally have never seen a track so busy in my life. Great entertainment! Well that’s the “Ruotsiottelu” / “Finnkampen” for you.
Chris Turner for the IAAF