Getting to know… Finland

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Getting to know… Finland

Feature photo by Peter Porai-Koshits via Wikimedia Commons

The IBU World Championships are off and running (well, skiing, actually) in Kontiolahti, Finland.

Biathlon Canada posted a tweet with this video that takes viewers through the 2.5 kilometre loop. It’s like you’re virtually there without leaving the relative comfort of your work computer:


While we’ll be keeping an eye on Canadian biathlon results in Finland, the country itself is quite fascinating. It has what some call ‘quirks,’ but the locals may tell you its simple pragmatism.

One thing to know about Finland is if you’re wealthy, you really should follow the traffic laws. The nation fines traffic violators based on their income. On Tuesday, the BBC reported a Finnish businessman was hit with a $75,000 (Cdn.) fine for speeding. (To my fellow Torontonians reading, with the often-reported number of bad drivers on our roads, the Finns may have found a solution to our infrastructure funding woes.)

If asked why you were speeding – in the northern city of Oulu – you could say you were on your way to one of its many music festivals, including the Air Guitar World Championships. Because that’s a thing:

Finland is a country that values education greatly, with world-renowned programs and results that are praised internationally as a model to follow (actual political will notwithstanding).

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From the classroom to the field of play, for its relatively small population of 5.5 million people, Finland has produced a remarkable number of world-class athletes. Using a per capita statistic – which understandably has some flaws but can still be a guide – of the Olympic Summer Games, Finland has won the most medals, both gold and total, of any nation. However, much of that take was around and before it hosted Helsinki 1952. Since Melbourne 1956, Finland has hit double-digit medal count at Summer Games only once, at the Soviet-bloc boycotted Los Angeles 1984.

Paavo Nurmi won five gold medals at Paris 1924.

Paavo Nurmi won five gold medals at Paris 1924.

The most decorated of its summer – or any weather – Olympians is the great 1920s distance runner Paavo Nurmi, who won 12 Olympic medals (nine gold) in events ranging from cross country running to the 10,000m, with even a steeplechase silver in between.

In the Winter Games, Finland’s contribution has come largely from cross-country skiing (76 medals in total). In recent years it has won five cross-country medals in various disciplines at Sochi 2014 and Vancouver 2010 on the strength of its overall strong squad.

Jari Kurri (17) embraces his longtime NHL teammate Wayne Gretzky after Finland beat Canada for bronze medal in men's ice hockey at Nagano 1998.

Jari Kurri (17) embraces his longtime NHL teammate Wayne Gretzky after Finland beat Canada for bronze medal in men’s ice hockey at Nagano 1998.

Finland’s most famous winter Olympian is likely Matti Nykanen, who won three of his four Olympic gold medals at Calgary 1988 – if you’re looking for a Canadian connection.

And Canadians are also quite familiar with a steady stream of Finnish ice hockey players, most notably Jari Kurri, Teemu Selänne, Saku Koivu and Miikka Kiprusoff – all of whom are Olympic medallists and made an impact on Canadian NHL teams.

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