FUN IN FINLAND
By: Jeff Gorski Founder/Head Coach of KLUB KEIHAS
Ex-USATF Men's Javelin Development Chair
NOTE: This article was written in Nov 1999
This past summer (July 1999) I was fortunate enough to spend over a week in Finland to take part in the annual Keihaskarnevaalit, the Javelin Carnival. While there, I was able to meet and talk with some of the greatest athletes and coaches the event has ever seen. To spend evenings discussing technique with the likes of Janis Lusis, Uwe Hohn, Jorma Kinnunen and others was an indescribable experience. There is a great tradition and reverence for the javelin in Finland, and to see this firsthand at a weekend festival devoted solely to this event was fabulous! During my too short stay I learned many things about the event and made friendships that will last a lifetime; indeed, my travelling party and I were warmly welcomed into the "javelin family". Joining me on this trip to Kuortane, to stay at one of their sport training centers, and to Pihtipudas, home of the Keihaskarnevaalit, were Delyle Woods, Mark Fletcher and Tom Pukstys- some of the US top throwers; and Catherine Betz and Brian Kollar, a pair of promising junior athletes. Besides highlighting the events of the trip I hope to give the reader a feel for the way the javelin is viewed and regarded, hopefully to bring the event to a higher level of attention in the US. In fact, the American JavFest, the first event of it's kind here, was inspired by my experiences in Finland; it will take place at the Penn Relays in April, 2000.
Before I made the trip, 3 of the top Finn throwers, Juha Laukkenen, Harri Haatinen and Mikaela Ingberg, spent a month training in my hometown of Chapel Hill, NC. This gave me a chance to talk with them about a variety of subjects, usually javelin based. It also gave me a chance to learn a bit of the culture of Finland and what to expect when I travelled there. A bit of advice to potential travellers; both sauna and coffee are taken very seriously in Finland, and refusals of them when offered can hurt the feelings of your host. On these counts, I did nothing to hurt US-Finnish relations! I also learned the importance of massage therapy to these athletes; for their stay in NC they brought with them a massage therapist, Timo Suomalainen, who may be the closest thing to a magician I've seen. His ability to help athletes recover from hard training and injuries was quite amazing, and he worked on them on a regular basis to allow continued improvement in training. This was still an early transition period for them, coming out of the high volume and intensity of winter power training and channeling it into throwing technique. More than half of their training was devoted to throwing- medicine balls, javelin balls and actual javelins, as well as throwing simulation exercises and runway work. The refinement of raw power to applied technique was the main goal of this training period from mid-April to mid-May. Especially during the last two weeks of their visit there were a number of throwing sessions of pretty high quality, if not perfect technique; throws of 80m by Juha and Harri were made, even if the technique was not quite correct (this gave me the opportunity to learn a few rather interesting Finnish expressions). To me, the chance to watch these athletes train and learn what they feel is important to throw far was priceless, and gave me another valuable bit of information to carry to Finland later. I also learned from "Mikke" Ingberg a bit of the progress that takes place in a young athlete becoming a top flight javelin thrower in Finland.
Over the course of a few evenings Mikke told me of her growing up and how her experiences in sport eventually brought her to the javelin. While these discussions related specifically to her, by talking with other Finnish throwers and the German throwers (Boris Henry, Raymond Hecht and Peter Blank) I met in previous years, I could see that the development from promising youth to international level was similar across Europe. At 9 years or so she was involved in many sports-soccer, volleyball, as well as track and field at a local sports club-in fact, it was more of a play situation than serious sport (hear that soccer Moms?). She was first introduced to the javelin then and liked it a great deal; she won the first competition she entered at 10 yrs. and her father rewarded her with a 400g javelin which she threw for fun around the fields of her home. Two years later at 12 years she attended her first Keihaskarnevaalit and has been to every carnival since! At that first carnival she met 1983 World Champion and WR setter Tiina Lillak and the "hero worship" aspect motivated her to continue the event along with the national pride in javelin that spurs these athletes to greatness. Pride and "hating to lose" has been a trait of Mikke's: she lost the 13-14 yr old national title at the carnival on the last throw at 13 and vowed to win the following year, and did. At 16 she threw 51.96m to make her first international team and enjoyed the travel and meeting people, one of the many aspects of her sport she still enjoys. These "nice trips" continued with the European Juniors at 17 and 18, then 1995 brought a crossroads for her. At just 19 she placed 3rd at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany and committed to "see how good I could be" and began training under her present coach, 1988 Olympic Champion Tapio Korjus. She was in the first "class" of a combined training and education school, a 3 year commitment to train under your coach while studying in your selected field. She has developed into one of the top throwers in the world since and is a major contender at any competition.
In a country that endures brutal winters; long, dark and cold, it's not surprising that the common thread in Finn throwers success is hard work. Mikke says Tapio was not a great natural talent but worked hard to throw 89m with the old javelin before his Olympic success. In Finland, good athletes are expected to become coaches to teach the next generation of throwers- teaching what works and what DOESN'T! When a Finnish javelinist reaches a level of international recognition they are "honored to become part of the javelin tradition" as Mikke stated to me. The exchange of information from old to young is very good, and from the beginning the basics of good throwing technique are stressed. Learning the proper delivery action is taught first, and various throwing of balls, sticks and rocks for fun are started at 5-6 yrs. old to learn the slinging action. As soon as the child is able, the throw is from some run-up to learn to deliver from run rhythm but still in a play mode. The overall focus is learn the skill, get faster at it, then master it at more speed; this cycle can be built on constantly. As the athlete gets older and more physically developed, a higher volume of throws is performed all very correct. At 12-14 there is a bit of general power development done with medicine balls and gymnastic exercises in addition to increasing the throwing volume. The basic technique they stress are: point control, focal point (target), high strike and run-up rhythm. You don't get to throw more or have a longer run-up until you master these basic goals. At 16 the really talented athletes begin to have a long range training program set up for them, and some basic weight training is begun. These athletes are groomed for future results, not immediate success, and these youngsters understand the long and short term goals and what they are training for. At 18 the really serious training begins where the athlete goes to training centers with great facilities indoors and out, a school for their education and solid coaching; a balance of training, education and social growth are all of equal importance. This is the age (18 yrs) that the men and women start throwing the international weight implement and when their specific training starts. The weight progression for javelins/age for women- under 15, 400g; 16-17, 500g. The men start with 400g up to age 12, 12-13, 500g; 14-15, 600g; 16-17, 700g. Only the United States start their athletes throwing the international javelins at 13/14 yrs old which leads to poor technique early as they tend to labor against the implement; if possible, teach young athletes good form with a lighter spear first.
The first day of the Keihaskarnevaalit is age group competition starting with under 9 boys and girls and progressing by 2 years each group; under 11, under 13, etc. up to under 23 yrs. There were about 400 athletes total on this day with 10 to 20 throwers in each age group; they started at 8:30 AM and finished at 10:30 PM. 14 straight hours of javelin throwing ...I was in Heaven!! It all ran like a Swiss watch and was the smoothest running meet I had ever seen. The evening before I sat in at their officials meeting and they stressed that this must be run as a first class event- respect the athletes as you may be seeing a future World Champion. The organization and execution of the schedule was fabulous: by the end of the day the last group, the U 23 men, started only 20 minutes behind schedule. Keeping the activities safe was a constant reminder- always be aware of what's going on around you and look where you're throwing. There were almost 1,400 competitive throws without a single scare that day. We non-Finns were welcome to assist and I spent my first hours at the Pihtipudas Javelin Carnival measuring throws with Uwe Hohn at the U 9 and U 11 competitions...what a blast! The rest of the day the two of us, along with Janus Lusis, wandered the field any watched, seeing some very talented young throwers and exciting competitions; the U 11 girls had the top 3 over 135' and the winner went from 8th to 1st on a last throw of over 140'. The Women's U 23 comp saw several throws over 53m with the winner topping 57m. It took over 71m to make the Men's U 23 final and the top 3 were over 76m; winner Harri Haatienen had 4 throws over 80m with a best of 82.50m. Every throw was video taped and each athlete got a frame by frame still sequence of their best effort. The days events were recounted over beers in the sauna and the winners toasted later at the local disco; all in all a tough day to beat.
The next two days were devoted to the Javelin School, where past throwers served as teachers and each age group worked with the same 2 or 3 coaches during 2 days of instruction that covered every aspect of the event. The rough set-up of the School is a series of 12-14 stations or areas of instruction that are each about an hour long; general and specific conditioning, technique drills, flexibility, weight training, medicine balls, run-up work, throwing technique and video review are all covered. There was a question and answer session with a panel of Lusis, Hohn, Jorma Kinnunen, Mikke Ingburg, Matti Narhi and Marius Corbett, 1997 World Champion from South Africa. There was a competition of wheelchair throwers, a throwing exhibition testing new javelins by Apollo and a "Historic" competition that I was invited to join into; over age 35 athletes throwing 600g javelins. In the field of 14 throwers, 7 had thrown over 300' ...I was soundly thrashed and loved every minute of it. How many of you have thrown against Lusis, Hohn, and Kinnunen in the same meet! And Lusis can still blast it; he threw over 170' from a stand at age 62. Each evening the village of Pihtipudas had an elaborate dinner/dance for all of the staff and guests of the Keihaskarnevaalit, following sauna of course. This annual event is very important to the Finnish people and the locals attend all days of the carnival to see the developing young and to rub elbows with javelin greats; Mikke and Harri Haatienen have near rock star status.
Because of the severe weather in winter- bitterly cold and very dark and depressing- the warm, long days of summer bring out the festive spirit of the Scandinavian people. There are festivals and carnival events all across Finland in summer; jazz festivals, Tango carnivals, folk music concerts and sport events in villages and towns everywhere. For every track and field event there is some sort of special event, and the Keihaskarnevaalit is the most popular and prestigious of them all. The athletes and spectators are well aware of what they are a part of, and they revel in the atmosphere created. The village of Pihtipudas is also home of the Keihasmuseo, the Javelin Museum, which houses artifacts and equipment from the history of the javelin from Finland and around the world. Photos, news articles and meet results from across the world, Olympic and World Championship medals, uniforms, shoes and javelins can all be found in the second floor shrine. You could easily spend days combing over the information there. The knowledge of the event by the Finnish people is very refreshing- it's nice to walk across an airport and have people come up to you and, not only know what's in the cases but also know why you are in Finland with them! Most of the Finnish people have thrown javelin at some point in their lives and that personal experience lets them really appreciate the great throws they often see in the same way the American weekend golfer can appreciate the Masters. Athletes enjoy competing in front of educated fans, and there is no place on Earth with better spectators for the javelin than Finland.
The over riding theme of the Javelin School is to understand the movements that produce big throws. A lot of time is spent on throwing the javelin and medicine balls during these days instruction to teach the shoulder/arm strike at delivery by throwing the javelin and learning to use the legs and trunk to set up the shoulder with the medicine ball exercises and throws. They also stress the overall athletic ability needed to be a good thrower by doing a variety of gymnastic and jumping exercises, walking over hurdles, throwing shots various ways, hopping up hills as well as specific flexibility exercises that simulate throwing movements. In the technique sessions corrections to throwing flaws are addressed from a stand and a step or two, but they get to throwing off a run as soon as possible, because the transition from run to throw must be as smooth and quick. This has been a focal point for Finnish technique for decades; 1952 Olympic silver medallist Bill Miller spoke of his summer in Finland in the early '50's and how he learned the importance of going from the "running state to the throwing state" without loss of speed.
This had been important for decades at that time, and this summer I remarked to Tapio Korjus that after years of seeing Finns on film and now in person, basically they got to the left quick and smacked it with their shoulder. How this was accomplished depended on the throwers ability, and Tapio agreed that this was what was important to learn and practice. The aggressive action of the shoulder/arm delivery is responsible for many of their injuries: the action is so fast that being out of position with the legs or chest puts great stress on the shoulder and elbow. The passion and explosiveness of the delivery is a double edged sword- everything in harmony and huge throws result, but off balance or late to the plant and you're being scheduled for surgery. Sitting in sauna with some of these guys was like being at a reunion of shark bite victims; semi-circle scars were quite common. My only victory at the Historic competition was that my elbow and shoulder felt fine that evening- my competitors were going to painfully remember that throwing session for a number of days.
The fourth and final day of the Carnival is for the Open competitions for men and women. There are big crowds, live music and a generally festive atmosphere as the Men's B competition, made up of the top throwers from the U 23 and U 19 groups, begin in the morning. Top three results are between 75 to 78m. The Women's Open follows, with Taina Uppa besting 1996 Olympic Champ Heli Rantanen by 20cm as both top 59m; Mikke Ingberg sits out with a knee injury but will join these two on the team going to Seville for the World Championships. the Men's A final ends the day with a fine field, even with injuries keeping Matti Narhi, Kimmo Kinnunen and Aki Parviainen out of the meet. On his last throw Tom Pukstys has his seasonal best beyond 84m to win over Harri Haatinen, Juha Laukkenen, Harri Hakkarainen and Marius Corbett. The TV he wins won't fit on the plane, so Jorma gets a deal from Tom and has an adventure trying to fit it into his car to take home.
We leave from Pihtipudas and drive for 5 hours to Helsinki for our flight home. Many things are discussed that we saw and learned while there and vows are made to adjust training and to pack less stuff next trip. The friends we made stay in touch via the Internet, and plans to attend the 2000 Carnival are in the works- it's the 30th anniversary, so it will be a special event!! The overall impression from this trip is that the javelin is a great event with tradition back to the Ancient Olympics, one of the original events, and it has a special place in the heart of the Finnish people. My sincere hope is to find some small place for this love in the heart of American sport and grow it from there to a level at least the equal of that in Finland...... join us in Philadelphia to get things started!
Brian Kollar, Delyle Woods, Mark Fletcher
Kari Ihalainen & UCLA's Mike Maynard
improve US-Finnish relations
Kari Ihalainen, Brian Kollar, Swedish javelin coach
Jari Keihas & Katherine Betz at 3am lakeside
Kari & Jeff on the way to lake from sauna
"Mikke" Ingberg in action at 1999 Keihaskarnivaalit
Delyle Woods with the quote of the trip-
"May your cabins be large!"
A traditional sauna heated with wood-
temps over 160F were common
"Fletch" & Delyle with statue of
Jorma Kinnunen, one of Finland's legends
and founder of the Keihaskarnivaalit
Teemu Wirkkala (now an 87m+ thrower) during
the men's under 19 competition
Juha Laukkanen (88m+ best) throws
during the Mens Elite competition
Legendary Janis Lusis throws in
the "Historic" competition
Keihaskarnivaalit founder and home town hero
Jorma Kinnunen rips one in the "Historic" comp
Uwe Hohn rifles a throw
in the "Historic" comp
I get my ass kicked by history's best....
and love every minute of it!
Mens Emerging Elite competition
Tom Pukstys with his trophy after
winning the Mens Elite comp: only the
3rd non-Finn to ever win this meet
Women's U 23 competition... at 10:30 pm!
Swede Anders Borgstrom was one
of the crew filming all competitions