The President of the Republic of Finland was the principal guest at a star-studded Gala evening that took place last night (25) in the Finnish capital, the climax to celebrations which marked the 100th Anniversary of the Finnish Athletics Federation / Suomen Urheiluliitto ry (SUL), one of the founding members of the IAAF. The federation was born on 11 March 1906.
President Tarja Halonen, who in 2005 received the IAAF Golden Order of Merit, was joined at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Helsinki by European Athletics Association President Hansjörg Wirz (SUI), who as a member of the IAAF Council represented the world governing body, SUL President Antti Pihlakoski, Danish Federation President Martin Roald-Arboel, and Swedish Federation General Secretary Lennart Karlberg.
Four ex-athletes who are now serving as members of the Finnish Parliament - Arto Bryggare, 1983 World silver and 1984 Olympic bronze (110mH) Sari Essayah, 1993 World and 1994 European gold medallist (10km RW), Antti Kalliomäki, 1976 Olympic Bronze (PV), and Lasse Virén, four-time Olympic gold medallist (1972 and 1976 - 5000/10,000m) - were among a large group of international medallists and record breakers attending.
Keskisalo – athlete of the year
At the annual Finnish Athletics Awards which were incorporated earlier on in the day into Saturday’s celebrations, it was no real surprise that Jukka Keskisalo who had flown to the European 3000m Steeplechase gold medal in Gothenburg took the title of Athlete of the Year (a full list of awards follows below) but one special individual award, a well kept secret, was retained until late in the Gala itself.
Virén receives honorary award
Finland’s greatest living athlete Lasse Virén was awarded with Honorary Membership of Finnish Athletics, the highest distinction that the federation can bestow. Viren, who as well as his four Olympic titles set World records at Two Miles, 5000m, 10,000m in the 1970s, is the first athlete to receive this honour which previously has been awarded to three former presidents and four other dignitaries in the federation’s 100 year history.
Recognising that the foundations of Finnish success rest in the strength of the club system, the awarding of the Kalevan Malja for the best overall club of 2006 was also made during the evening. The trophy went to ‘Helsingin Kisa-Veikot’, who can boast many former Olympic champions and World record breakers in their own history, including Taisto Mäki, who was the first sub-30mins 10,000m runner in history (1939), and 1984 Olympic Javelin champion Arto Harkonen.
Helsinki to bid for 2014 European Championships
An hour and half ‘live’ stage and film presentation of the history of Finnish athletics entitled “Hundred Years’ Experience”, was followed by a dinner for the 600 guests. During the evening Hansjörg Wirz gave a speech of congratulations on behalf of the IAAF and EAA, while Antti Pihlakoski took the opportunity to announce that Finland, through the candidature of the city of Helsinki, would bid to host the 2014 European Championships.
Legends send best wishes
Letters of congratulations were also sent to the federation to mark the occasion of the anniversary from legends such as Dana Zatopkova, Jan Zelezny, Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat.
International medallists on show
As well as the guests already named, joining in the evening’s celebrations was a vast legion of Finnish athletes who had achieved either World, Olympic or European medals or had set World records during their careers, these included Tommi Evilä, Pirjo Häggman, Nina Holmén, Jorma Kinnunen, Valentin Kononen, Olli-Pekka Karjalainen, Heli Kruger (Koivula), Tiina Lillak, Pentti Nikula, Tero Pitkämäki, Heli Rantanen, Riitta Salin, Hannu Siitonen, Ismo Toukonen, Juha Väätäinen, Pekka Vasala....
Tiny nation – Amazing success
Despite a present day population of just 5.2 million inhabitants, Finnish track and field athletes have won 114 Olympic medals - 49 golds, 35 silvers and 30 bronzes - since 1906 when they competed at the Olympic Games for the first time.
A large amount of those Olympic honours were won in the 1920s and 30s, but this tiny nation continues to punch above its demographic weight on the athletics world stage. At the IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Finland’s overall total is 19 medals (6 gold; 7 silver; 6 bronze), and at the European Championships she has amassed 85 medals (31 gold; 29 silver; 25 bronze).
The host of the 1952 Olympic Games, the 1971 and 1994 European Championships, last year Finland became the first country to host the IAAF World Championships in Athletics for a second time (1983 and 2005), with the capital Helsinki being awarded the title of IAAF World Athletics City.
The 100th anniversary has been celebrated throughout 2006 in a variety of competitions including the Finnish Championships, ‘Kalevan Kisat’ (21 - 23 July) in Jyväskylä, where the member clubs of the SUL were in the spotlight, and the Finland vs. Sweden fixture, the most legendary international athletics match in the world, at the Helsinki Olympic Stadium (25 – 26 August).
Public Poll to select Best Finnish Athletes in History
A history book to commemorate the anniversary written by Seppo Martiskainen has been published, and the Finnish Federation’s website - www.sul.fi - on its English language pages carries an extensive general history of Finnish athletics. Currently there is a public poll on the website - link via the main home page - to select the overall best Finnish athletes of the last 100 years, with results being declared at the end of 2006.
Chris Turner for the IAAF
Honorary Membership of Finnish Athletics:
2006 Finnish Federation Awards
Athlete of the year & Distance runner of the year:
Jukka Keskisalo / coach Tommy Ekblom
Jarkko Ruostekivi / coach Teemu Salonen
Matti Mononen / coach Markku Mononen
Tero Pitkämäki / coach Hannu Kangas
Women’s EuroCup team: Niina Kelo, Salla Rinne, Sanna Saarman, Maija Kovalainen / coach Markku Leppänen
Jarkko Kinnunen / coach Kari Ahonen,
Markku Niinimäki / coach Timo Henriksson
European Championship medallist:
Olli-Pekka Karjalainen / coach Arto Rinta-aho
World Junior Championship medallist:
Ari Mannio / coach Tapio Mannio
Uusi Sampo (best athlete of the Kalevan Kisat / national champs):
Tero Pitkämäki / coach Hannu Kangas
Chris Turner / IAAF Website
Jarmo Färdig / Helsingin Sanomat
Oy Eniro Finland Ab
Best Event Carnival:
Javelin Carnival, Pihtipudas
Best Elite Games:
Savo Games, Lapinlahti
Best increase in number of athletes (district):
Best increase in number of athletes (club):
Espoon Tapiot, Espoo, and Karhulan Katajaiset, Kotka
Keski-Pohjanmaan Yleisurheilu ry (Middle-Botnian Athletics , regional organization)
Junior coach of the year:
Anne Karvinen-Poutanen, club: Kuivasjärven Aura, Oulu