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August 30, 2010Posted by on
When I first heard about the Finnkampen/Ruotsi-ottelu years ago, I must admit that I wasn’t all that impressed. Back then, my concept of a dual meet was laid-back competition between two schools, something akin to a time trial.
I was dead wrong.
As my concept of athletics widened throughout the years, I’ve realized the fact that track & field (as us Americanized Filipinos call the sport) is most popular in Europe. All the world’s elite athletes trot their stuff at the highly competitive (and financially-rewarding) European circuit. From the Diamond League, the IAAF World Challenge to obscure Estonian meets, Europe has it all, attracting the professionals from all corners of the globe.
Whilst going over my daily athletics morning fare, I watched Youtube clips of the recently concluded IAAF World Challenge in Rieti and the Finnkampen (the Swedish term is much easier to speak/write for this English speaker). David Rudisha had again broken his two-week old world record, running away from the field at 1:41.01s. The sizable Italian crowd was ecstatic, the meet directors even more so.
But there was an artificial quality to the spirit of competition. Perhaps it irked me how one of the organizers herded Rudisha right in front of the giant digital timer for a photo op – right after his world-record race! It seemed as if everything – from the post-race celebration to the post-race handshakes – were performed in a perfunctory manner. But then again, it is understandable that the unbridled passion one sees in major championships like the Olympics, the Worlds and the Europeans are absent from just another stop at the European circuit.
The Finnkampen, despite the dearth of world-class performances, had that distinctive small-town charm. With 54,000 spectators spread over two days of competition, it was apparent that this dual meet between the Scandinavian neighbors is not just another speck in the athletics calendar. In fact, the 2007 World Champion Tero Pitkamaki and two compatriots immediately went to the historic Helsinki Olympic Stadium to compete, after their flight from the Meeting Van Damme in Belgium. Finland’s top pole vaulter, Minna Nikannen, shrugged off a troublesome calf to clear the highest possible height – a testament to the raw emotion of this storied competition.
The loud cheers of the crowd and the all-out performance of the athletes gave goosebumps to this athletics fanatic thousands of miles away. In this day and age of specialization, where professional athletes reign supreme at their respective fields, I’ve developed a certain fondness for the amateur (probably because I’m an amateur myself!) As the Finnish sprinter/hurdler Gustav Klingstedt said in reply to one of my previous posts, the Finnkampen is “probably the only athletics competition where the great majority of athletes are amateurs which still gathers over 10,000 spectators every year.”
Whilst watching Finland’s Matti Räsänen battle Sweden’s Oscar Käck in a classic dash to the tape at the 5000m, I was awestruck at the intensity of their furious finish. In the clips that I’ve seen, teammates from both sides were quite vocal in cheering their respective sides. This is a sight devoid from those big-money meets. In fact, such a display of support is more akin to a heated college-level competition. In the Philippines, the closest example is the basketball rivalry between Ateneo and La Salle. In a sense, the Sweden-Finland dual meet can be likened to an Ateneo-La Salle finals game – multiplied a hundred fold!