Saturday, May 15, 2010

Finland AKA "Wow I'm Glad That's Over" The Sami Jauhojaervi Story

Finland – D+

A quick glance at the Nations Cup rankings will lead you to believe Finland was half-decent. A solid 5th place, just ahead of Germany. Not bad, you say to yourself, they beat Canada, the US, the Poland-Justyna-Kowalczyks,
and France. Furthermore, you notice that 10 women and 13 men scored World Cup points. But that’s where you stop, and come read my analysis. Buckle your seatbelts, because this is going to be a ride. Those who know me know what is coming. Yes, Neil, Finland is about to get eviscerated (and I like the choice of words).
Dear entire team Finland. Please buy Aino-Kaisa Saarinen a pile of drinks the next time you get clobbered, because she is the only reason you received a D+ instead of an F. On second thought, you probably shouldn’t be drinking, but training, because for the most part, you guys stunk.

A team that has the depth on both the men’s and women’s side that Finland had to begin this season should not end in 5th, but should be a perennial podium contender. Sure, there are fluctuations every year, but everyone can agree, Virpi Kuitinen dropping to 317 this seasons from 1100 WC points last season isn’t a ‘fluctuation’ but a meltdown. I know, she’s retiring, she was sick, she was tapering for the Olympics, blah blah blah, but for one of the all-around best and most consistent skiers on the World Cup for the last 4 years, it is unacceptable. 317 is the lowest point total she has had since 2001, when she was 25! Virpi, I know you’re retiring, but grow a pair, put the boards back on next season and kick some Polish ass!

But Finland’s woes were not all a product of Kuitinen. Her ever-useful teammate (or at least was her two previous seasons) Pirjo Muranen also took the opportunity to shit the bed in an Olympic year. She contributed a whole 260 WC points to the total after chipping in just under 1000 last season. Muranen had more WC points by Christmas of last year than she scored all this season. Jeez, if Muranen was a nation, she wouldn’t even have beaten Belarus. I wish I could pinpoint exactly what happened, tell you the TSN turning point, and give Pirjo a good excuse, but I could not find one. Let’s just say she had tuberculosis.

Moving through the team roster, we come to Riita-Liisa Roponen. Her FIS profile picture shows her to be kind of cute (no Johaug, but really, who is) and even better, shows that she in fact earned about 100 MORE WC points than last season, up to 788 from 695. Hey, not all of the Finnish women sucked afterall! Roponen was consistent, didn’t bomb at the Olympics (even got a bronze medal!), finished 6th in the Tour and skied a strong World Cup Final. Nothing wrong with that at all, congrats! Too bad you didn’t pick up a few more points to help the rest of your squad out of the doghouse.

Another non-goat from the women’s squad was Riikka Sarasoja. Her 294 points were up from 170 the previous year, and she was a very consistent sprint qualifier. She didn’t light any heats on fire with her blazing speed, and she never made a final, but consistent qualifying matched with the occasional good distance race is good enough to get you some kudos on the Finnish women’s team this season.

While there are a few other girls on the team doing that skiing thing, we’ll skip ahead to someone who really matters, Aino-Kaisa Saarinen. Aino-Kaisa Saarinen is without a doubt the most intimidating women who I have ever had the pleasure of standing 2 feet away from. We didn’t exchange words or looks (well, maybe we did, but with those MASSIVE glasses covering her entire face prevented me from knowing) but trust me, she is one hell of a monster. And it showed all season, as she crushed races left right and center. Sure, she did drop to a measly 1123 WC points from 1463 last season, but that can easily be explained by the Polish trainwreck. It doesn’t matter what the distance or style, Saarinen can never really be counted out. She is a force to be reckoned with, and barring a Kuitinen-esque nosedive, will challenge for the World Cup overall again next season.

So with the women roundly chastised, we get to move onto the men. Who, if possible, fared even worse. But after quick inspection, it would not appear so. Matti Heikkinen, you see, scored 443 WC points, just about double his total last year. Not bad, especially in the competitive men’s field. Then you glance one name further down the list, see Ville Nousainen, and the trouble begins…
Not that Ville is bad, or had a bad season. In fact, quite the opposite, as he scored over 150 points more than the previous year. Similarly, Matthias Strandvall doubled his total, while Lasse Paakkonen (that’s a lot of double letters) went more 11 to 87 points. Kalle Lassila was strong but not spectacular all year on the sprint front. A few other young lads scored some respectable points, and Jesse ‘I have 6 ‘e’s’ Vaeaenaenen made a respectable comeback after a serious illness.

Now, before you get the impression that Matti is a hero, or the Finns actually did do well, hold up. Heikkinen skied spectacularly at the start of the season. Maybe he thought the World Cup ends at Chistmas, because that is about when it was over for him. While he did finish 12th on the Tour de Ski, he was clearly running on fumes, as the chump didn’t even get back into the top 30 until the World Cup Final. It may seem like I am being unfairly harsh on a young skier who just suffered from a few inconsistencies (71st in a 15km C then 1st in a 15 km skate 2 weeks later), but really, he comes from a premiere skiing country in the World, who should have this kind of thing figured out. Of course, it didn’t help that I had him on my Fantasy squad, a squad which was not particularly deep with distance males.

And speaking of Fantasy Skiing, this brings me to Sami Jauhojaervi. One of my favourite skiers last
season, because he’s a small guy who consistently cranks out good classic races, the most notably being a sprint last year where he qualified 30th and managed to battle his way to the final. That’s the Sami I love, and wanted desperately on my team. As it turns out, he was snaked, and despite attempting to trade for him up until about Christmas, his owner was not biting. Which was quite awesome, because he was the biggest flop of the 2009-2010 season. Oh Stevenson, how you thought I was trying to screw you over. Turns out you should have taken Torin Koos, Yuichi Onda and Chandra Crawford for Sami, they would have done better. Anyways, Sami stunk because he ended his season with 127 WC points, a massive drop from his 784 last year. He and Kuitinen must have had a bet going about who could disappoint the most or something, because he was BAD. Congratulations Sami, you won!

I wish I could stop here, as the Finns have taken an epic thrashing so far. Unfortunately, we have not reached the worst part. I would say roughly 80% of the above could have been forgotten had the Finn’s kicked tail at the Big Show. But that didn’t happen. Instead, they set a record for futility and number of DNF’s by top skiers. Let’s take a quick look at individual performances. Heikkinen: 39th, DNF. Nousainen: 13th, DNF, 37th. Sami: 12th, DNF, 20th. Sure, the DNF’s all came in the pursuit, which, my detractors will argue, was due to bad skis. I agree, that could be a large part of it, but the fact is, when your top male placing is 12th, you have a problem. Your country expects medals, not Top-15’s. The silver lining of the entire Finnish Olympic experience could be the 4-by relays. The women finally woke up and scored a bronze medal (the ONLY Finnish cross-country medal of the Olympics) and the men were 5th, which is far higher than their individual placing indicate they could do.

So, in conclusion, the Finnish women (except AK Saar, Roponen and Sarasoja who were mediocre) sucked. There is no word to describe what happened to the Finnish men. For a Nordic power to pull off a stunt this epic is unbelievable. They even lost the ‘Best Nickname’ Award, as while Paakkonen is known as ‘The Hammer’ the Norwegians decided to bring their own, one Martin Hammer. His name actually IS Hammer, not just a nickname. But I digress. In Finland, I bet heads are rolling, and while I can’t speak Finnish, my coaching certification is limited, and I DNS’ed as many races as the Fin lands DNF’ed at the Olympics, I would like to toss my hat in the ring for Head Coach. Or failing that, I would settle for Head of Criticism. And maybe sprint coach.

You will notice that once again there are fewer countries than you had hoped. If you want to count, this Finland post is over 1500 words. I have written less for assignments worth 60% of my overall mark. As I do not want to deprive you of valuable information which I have no problem denying my professors, France and Germany will have to wait.

She eats human hearts for feeds. I wish I was kidding. She had two while I was watching the Olympic 30 km. The gigantic glasses are to protect her face from Justyna's poles in mass start events, because JK occasionally forgets she has them on, and in her attempt to win, flails around promptly poking everything. She should probably be arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, otherwise known as herself.

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