2009-2010 Nations Cup Ranking: 5th (4758 pts)
2010-2011 Nations Cup Ranking: 5th (4210 pts)
Men: 9th (1249 pts)
Women: 4th (2961 pts)
2011/2012 World Cup Team
What You May Have Missed Last Season
Finland had an explosion of unbelievably good skiing from a variety of previously unheard of sources.
Of the surprise talent, the women were the best – Krista Lahteenmaki and Kerttu Niskanen stormed their way onto the circuit in style.
Lahteenmaki was particularly impressive, finishing 21st in the first weekend of the season in Gallivaere, Sweden, on her way to 12th in the World Cup Overall rankings.
Over the course of the season, the 21 year old Finn picked up a silver medal in the second stage of the Tour de Ski before finishing 8th, won the 10 k at Under-23 World Championships by a full minute, and finally picked up two medals at World Championships, in the Team Sprint and 4×5 k relay.
Niskanen turned heads as a young sprinter – the 23 year old qualified in five of six World Cup sprints this season, as well as winning the Under-23 World Championship sprint, and finished 36th in the World Cup Overall standings.
While last year FasterSkier claimed Finland couldn’t be any worse, the men sure didn’t get much better. Matti Heikkenin led the team in 25th Overall, followed closely by Sami Jauhojaervi in 30th who bounced back from terrible 2009-2010 season.
It was a rollercoaster type season for the Finnish men. Heikkinen had two highs, winning the fourth stage of the Tour de Ski before going into hibernation for a few weeks, only to reappear at World Championships, winning the 15 k classic.
Jauhojaervi was frustratingly inconsistent, either finishing in the top 10, or out of the points, and ended the season with just one medal, a bronze from Kuusamo, Finland.
But the biggest ride of the season for the Finnish men was the two World Championship relays.
During the Team Sprint at World Championships, JauhoJaervi staked Ville Nousiainen a substantial three second lead going into the final leg, and, well, we all know what happened next…
They gave it another shot during the 4×10 k, where Nousainen practically dropped the Finns out of contention on the first leg, handing off to Jauhojaervi nearly a minute back of the lead. Jauhojaervi went to work, recording the fastest second leg of the day, pulling the group back into fourth.
Then the biggest surprise of the World Championships took over – Juha Lallukka (a 33 year old who never really made any noise and wasn’t even on the National Team at the start of the season) attacked his competition, giving the Finns the lead. Heikkinen rounded out the quartet, and failed to keep pace with Northug, finishing off the day 4th.
What You Need To Know for This Season
Despite the talent of the Finnish skiers, the Finnish Ski Association has not looked good over the last 12 months.
First, there were accusations that team money allocated for coaching costs were being used to cover Association finances.
Then, four members of the Association were charged with fraud and perjury related to the doping scandal in the 1990’s.
That was followed by the lengthy contract dispute between the skiers and the Association, which dragged on to the point where some athletes were excluded from camps. While it remains to be seen how the headlines will affect their performance on the trails, many members of the national team cited concerns over the wasted energy athletes have spent dealing with the issue taking away from their training.
Finally, the team was dealt a massive blow as Juha Lallukka, the Finnish hero of World Championship relay and 8th place finisher in the 50 k skate recently had his A-sample test positive for Human Growth Hormone.
With Lallukka’s discovery and the earlier charges, Finland just can’t seem to shake it’s association with doping – but Lahteenmaki is making an effort at being clean, listing every single time she gets tested on her website.
Also, Pirjo Muranen has retired, ending a length career that includes three World Championship and an Olympic bronze medal.
Who You Should Watch
At just 20 years old, Maria Grundvall has shown some speed, finishing 4th at World Junior Championships in the sprint. While she has been given a few World Cup starts, and has yet to make anything of them, that’s hardly a reason to count her out. The Finnish women have proved that they can make the leap to the World Cup, usually after a standout Under-23 World Championship effort – if Grundvall can pop off a big result there next winter, she will be on her way.