Nations Cup Ranking: 5th (4758 pts)
Men: 8th (1543 pts)
Women: 4th (3215 pts)
2010/2011 A Team
What you may have missed last season:
It’s not often a country finishes fifth on the Nations Cup list and can call their season ‘sub-par,’ however Finland managed to pull it off.
The Finns started out strong – Matti Heikkinen was a pleasant early season surprise earning medals in two of his first four starts on the World Cup, and Aino-Kaisa Saarinen was her consistently strong self all season. However, after that, things went south for Finland.
You may remember Sami Jauhojaervi from the 2008/2009 season. A small in stature but outstanding classic skier who has an incredibly difficult to spell last name, Jauhojaervi was possibly the greatest surprise on the circuit. In one particular sprint race he squeaked into the heats, and qualified 30th, but managed to hack his way into the A-Final. Unfortunately for Finland, the only surprise he sprung on the World Cup this year was being utterly abysmal. Like dropping from 4th in the Overall in ’09 to 58th in 2010 abysmal.
He was joined in his slump by some of Finland’s most consistent top tier talent. Virpi Kuitenen had her worst point total on the World Cup since 2001, when she was 25. Pirjo Muranen scored more World Cup points before Christmas in 2009 than she did in the entire 2010 season.
Things really came to a head for Finland at the Olympics. With no medals to speak of and no top results in the first week (the best was 10th in the sprint, by Kalle Lassila – good for a lot of countries, but just okay for Finland), the Finns came out firing for the pursuit. And it promptly turned into a nightmare. The top three men all DNF’ed, which while it is due to bad skis, is not the way you want things to go. Meanwhile, the women skied strongly – Saarinen finished 5th – but failed to get a medal.
The Fins finally got their act together in the relay, as the women picked up a bronze medal, and the men finished 5th, far better than either teams individual results would have predicted. And Aino Kaisa Saarinen broke the individual medal drought on the last day, finishing 3rd in the 30 k classic.
But things weren’t all bad. Female skiers Riita Lisa-Roponen and Riikka Sarasoja picked up some of the slack, as did Ville Nousainen, Matias Strandvall and Lasse Paakkonen on the men’s side, all upping their skiing to another level. However, having a couple of mid-pack skiers move up the rankings a little in no way replaces having three skiers who finished in the top 10 Overall rankings in ’09 drop like lead balloons.
And luckily for Head Coach Magnar Dahlen it wasn’t all bad, because he’s back for another season.
What You Should Know For This Season
There is almost no way for Finland to do worse this season. They still have world class skiers on their team, a proven developmental system, and there is too much young talent to count Finland out.
Sure, Virpi Kuitunen has retired and now goes by Virpi Sarusvo, so don’t expect her to have a bounce back season, but the rest of the Finns should at the very least be motivated.
The Finnish public won’t accept another season where their racers are so far back of their Scandinavian rivals Norway and Sweden, to say nothing of their close friends the Russians.
With the country hosting the second World Cup weekend (with the new mini-tour format) in Kuusamo, and as well as hosting an event in Lahti the second last weekend of the circuit, the Finnish fans will get an eyeful, and a place to vent their frustrations, if need be.
Also, Aino-Kaisa Saarinen looks really scary when she races, because of her massive visor.
Who You Should Watch
Lasse Paakkonen, who has somehow earned himself the monikor ‘The Hammer’, had a breakout year on the sprint circuit last season. He qualified in all seven of the starts he was given, including two incredibly competitive fields in Drammen and Oslo. He can both classic and skate sprint, and has a variety of pictures, hilarious and awesome, on his blog.