On the road to Tokyo: The world’s fastest wheelchair racer, Leo-Pekka Tähti
Will the Paralympic wins continue?
Leo-Pekka Tähti was born in Pori, Finland, in 1983. Despite his congenital spinal cord injury, Leo-Pekka had a normal childhood and began doing sports at a young age, his first sport being wheelchair basketball. Wheelchair basketball has indeed remained his secondary sport alongside wheelchair racing to this day.
Leo-Pekka started wheelchair racing at 14 and it wasn’t long before he completed his first half marathon with the result of 1:26:49. Since then, Leo-Pekka has come far, as his current record for a full marathon is around the same at 1:46:04!
Alongside his own sport training, Leo-Pekka has acquired a vocational qualification in coaching, which may come in useful once he retires from his career as an athlete.
Wheelchair racing is one of the most popular disability sports in the world and it has been a part of the Paralympics since the first Games held in Rome in 1960.
The distances of the individual competitions are the same as in running: 100, 200 and 400 m sprints, middle distances of 800 and 1 500 m, long distances of 5 000 and 10 000 m and the marathon, which is the longest.
Leo-Pekka’s training has been defined by determination and a goal-oriented mindset since the very beginning. After he began wheelchair racing in 1997, it only took Leo-Pekka a few years to reach the top of his sport in Finland. In 2000, he broke the Finnish records in both 200 and 10 000 metre distances, and in the following year he was already representing Finland in the European Championships.
In 2002, his team was joined by coach Juha Flinck, whom Leo-Pekka credits with his amazing development over the following years. In 2004, Leo-Pekka already celebrated his first Paralympic gold medal in Athens, which has been followed by almost 30 other major competition medals.
Since Athens, Leo-Pekka has been unbeatable in the 100-metre distance. This year is special as, according to his own words, the Tokyo Paralympics will be Leo-Pekka’s last. This is why he will be giving his best this season - the goal is to be stronger than ever!
On the road to Tokyo: Breaststroke record breaker, Jenna Laukkanen
Jenna, originally from Sotkamo, already began her success story at a young age. At the 2009 Finnish Championship, at only 14-years old, she won silver in the 100 metre breaststroke youth series and bronze in the adult series. That same year, she won her first international medal at the European Youth Olympic Festival by finishing second in both the 100 and 200 metre distances.
There are two different classes in swimming on European and World Championship level: the long course on a 50-metre track and the short course on a 25-metre track. Jenna has been particularly successful in short course competitions. In 2015, Jenna reached her best results to date by winning gold medals in both the 50 metre and 100 metre short course competitions. She also won European Championship medals in the following two years.
The 2018 to 2019 season was a tough one, and swimming was difficult despite hard training. Jenna reminded herself that training well doesn’t mean the same as training a lot, and that it is important to stay sensible and patient. It is also important to take breaks from training - this is where friends and family play an important part.
Once these principles were implemented, training began to be more pleasant, which also reflected positively on Jenna’s condition: in the 2019 European Championship short course competition she once again reached the podium. As Jenna has said, success rarely teaches you something and it is the failures that help you grow the most.
In 2019, as a change from competitive swimming focusing on individual performance, Jenna took part in the new International Swimming League (ISL) as the only Finn. In the league, you don’t only swim as an individual as the results of the events add to the total points of the team. Through this new format, Jenna wants to avoid becoming set in her ways and gain new perspective on the sport.
In the ISL, Jenna swims in Team Iron, which is captained by the Hungarian Katinka Hosszú, a three-time Olympic champion. Collaborating with world-class swimmers and Olympic medallists is ideal for providing inspiration and motivation for the future.
The next big challenge is already clear: the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. In order to be able to compete in Tokyo, swimmers must meet certain qualifying time requirements by the beginning of July. Jenna’s goal is to earn her place on the Olympic team at the long course European Championship held in Budapest this May.
Even though competition is hard on an international level and Olympic swimming is only done on the long track, Jenna already fought her way to swim in the two previous Summer Olympics. In 2016 in Rio, she swam incredible Finnish record times in 100 and 200 metre breaststrokes. Only time will tell what achievements the future holds!
On the road to Tokyo: The rising star of Greco-Roman wrestling, Arvi Savolainen
Arvi Savolainen, born in Lahti in 1998, is one of the brightest new stars in Finnish wrestling. He describes wrestling as a sport, in which you can have an honest match with someone, and in which getting your opponent on their back also gives you a sense of conquering yourself. Arvi, who was large for his age, started wrestling when he was very young. He had to challenge himself already at an early stage, as he often had to wrestle boys who were older than him. Thanks to strong opponents and methodical training, development was fast, and at age 17, he was already at the top of his age group on an international level as well.
Wrestling has been part of the Olympics since the first modern Olympics in 1896, the Games held in 1900 being the exception. To be specific, Arvi’s sport is Greco-Roman wrestling, one of the two wrestling types in the Olympics. It is different from the other style, freestyle wrestling, in that in Greco-Roman wrestling, the opponent must not be grabbed below the waist. The name of the style comes from the former belief that this was the wrestling style used in ancient Greece and Rome.
Only men wrestle in the Greco-Roman style on the top level; women’s wrestling is freestyle wrestling with some rule changes. Matches are held in several age categories, the most important ones being cadets (aged 16 to 17), juniors (aged 20 or less), the U23 series and adults or seniors. Weight classes in these age groups range from 42 to 130 kg.
Arvi has wrestled in the 97 kg weight class for the past few years and has won practically every available accolade in youth wrestling: in 2018 he was World Champion in the junior category and in 2019 he was European and World Champion in the U23 category. In the adults’ 97 kg class, he has Nordic Championship wins from 2018 and 2019 and a Finnish Championship win from 2019.
Competition in the sport is tough in Finland: Elias Kuosmanen, who has also trained with Arvi, has been a worthy opponent in the 97 kg class and has been chosen to represent Finland in the Olympic qualifying tournament. Only one wrestler per weight class can be sent to the Games, which is why Arvi switched to the 130 kg weight class for the Finnish Championships held at the beginning of this year, and he is now aiming for a place in the Olympic qualifying tournament’s heavier weight class.
The heavier weight of his opponents clearly was no obstacle for Arvi, as he yet again obtained the title of Finnish Champion. In the European Championships held in February in Rome, he wrestled his way to the bronze match of the heavyweight class, although this time he didn’t finish with a medal. Wrestling is not just about weight and brute force. The sport also requires stamina, coordination, explosive power and a good eye for the situation.
Arvi has been thinking about the Olympics for a long time. After winning the junior World Champion title in 2018, Arvi felt almost unreal - was he really the best in the world? At the same time, the Olympics were yet one step closer. According to Arvi, the greatest thing about the Olympics is that the Games bring the whole world together through sports, regardless of all the other drama and conflicts going on. The road to Tokyo is by no means straight or smooth, but the bright flame of the Olympic torch will undoubtedly guide Arvi in the future as well.
Icepeak becomes major partner in “Omerta” film project
As one of the most internationally successful brands of the Luhta Sportswear Company, Icepeak is happy to announce a collaboration with the international film project “Omerta”. The major film production, consisting of two feature-length action thrillers and a six-part TV show, is based on the novel 6/12, the bestselling work of acclaimed Finnish author Ilkka Remes.
Omerta is an ambitious project by Nordic standards, bringing in many of the top actors of Finnish cinema as well as foreign talents and making extensive use of new technologies, such as virtual worlds and 3D engines originally created for the gaming industry. The movies will be filmed both in Finland and abroad.
It was this international and innovative approach that inspired Icepeak to partner with the project. Icepeak is dedicated to bringing Finnish innovations and expertise to the international audience, which makes this collaboration a perfect fit for the brand.