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Hall of Fame of Finnish Sport

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Hall of Fame of Finnish Sport was founded in 2010 to honour the achievements of the most remarkable persons in Finnish sport history. Inducted into the Hall of Fame are athletes who have gained success in their sport at world level as well as people who have contributed to the development of their sport in Finland.

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Paavo Aaltonen (1919–1962)

Hall of Fame of Finnish Sport

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Paavo Aaltonen

Paavo Aaltonen (1919–1962)

Three-time Olympic champion Paavo Aaltonen is one of the most successful Finnish gymnasts of all time.

Aaltonen won gold in vault, pommelled horse and team competition at the 1948 Olympic Games in London. In the pommelled horse he tied for gold with two of his fellow countrymen, Veikko Huhtanen and Heikki Savolainen. This is the only case in Olympic history where three athletes from the same country have won gold in one individual event. Aaltonen’s fourth Olympic medal in London was bronze in the overall competition.

In 1950 Paavo Aaltonen won gold in horizontal bar at the World Championships in Basel, Switzerland. He thus became the first athlete from the Finnish Workers’ Sport Federation (TUL) to win a world championship title. Aaltonen retired from gymnastics after gaining his fifth Olympic medal, bronze in team competition at the 1952 Games in Helsinki.

Kalle Anttila (1887–1975)

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Kalle Anttila (1887–1975)

Kalle Anttila was the first man who won Olympic gold in both Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. In Antwerp 1920 Anttila won the Freestyle lightweight category (67.5 kg), and four years later in Paris he became Olympic champion in the Greco-Roman lightweight division (62 kg).

Finland was the dominant power in Olympic wrestling in the early 1920’s. In fact, Anttila never lost a wrestling match to a foreign adversary. In Finland the competition was fierce: Anttila went to Antwerp 1920 as a freestyle wrestler only because he did not win a place in the Finnish Greco-Roman team.

Kalle Anttila’s name became later very famous in Finland, but not because of his wrestling success: his clothing business grew into one of the country’s largest retail store chains.

 

Gunnar Bärlund (1911–1982)

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Gunnar Bärlund (1911–1982)

Heavyweight boxer Gunnar Bärlund was Finland’s first professional sports idol.

Bärlund turned professional in 1934 after winning the European amateur heavyweight championship title in Budapest. He went to America and rose rapidly in the rankings. Impressive victories in the legendary ring of Madison Square Garden made “Gunner” Bärlund into a contender for the world heavyweight belt, but the fight with Joe Louis never happened.

Bärlund retired from the ring in 1947, but he remained extremely popular in Finland. In 1991 his statue was erected in his old neighbourhood in a working-class district in Helsinki.

Erik von Frenckell (1887–1977)

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Erik von Frenckell (1887–1977)

Erik von Frenckell was the most influential Finnish sports leader of all time. The 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki were his greatest legacy.

Businessman of aristocratic background, von Frenckell rose to prominence in sporting circles as long-standing president of the Finnish Football Association (1918–52). He also served as Board member of the international football federation FIFA in 1927–32 and 1950–54.

Von Frenckell’s great ambition was to host the Olympic Games in Finland. He oversaw the construction of the Helsinki Olympic Stadium, which was inaugurated in 1938, and chaired the Stadium foundation for 50 years. Von Frenckell led Helsinki’s successful bid for the 1952 Summer Games and served as chairman of the Organising Committee before and during the Games.

Erik von Frenckell was elected to the International Olympic Committee in 1948. He retired from the organisation in 1976 after 28 years of active service.

Veikko Hakulinen (1925–2003)

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Veikko Hakulinen (1925–2003)

Skiing champion Veikko Hakulinen was Finland’s most popular sports hero in the 1950’s.

Hakulinen took his first gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games of 1952 in Oslo by winning the 50-kilometre race in a legendary time of 3:33:33. He also won Olympic gold in 30 kilometres in Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956 and in the relay race in Squaw Valley 1960. Between Olympic years Hakulinen took world championship titles in 15 kilometres in 1954 and 1958.

In his later years Hakulinen changed to biathlon. He took silver in relay at the World Biathlon Championships of 1963 and participated in Olympic biathlon in Innsbruck 1964.

Veikko Hakulinen won the Finnish Athlete of the Year prize four times: 1952, 1953, 1954 and 1960.

HEIKKI HASU (b. 21 March 1926)

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HEIKKI HASU (b. 21 March 1926)

Nordic combined skier Heikki Hasu was Finland’s first Olympic champion in the postwar era.

Hasu was only 21 when he became the first non-Norwegian Olympic gold medallist in Nordic combined at the 1948 Winter Games in St. Moritz. In 1950 he won gold at the World Championships in Lake Placid and two years later took silver at the Olympic Games in Oslo, Norway.

Nordic combined is a sport that combines cross-country skiing and ski jumping. Hasu was such a good skier that he was called to the Finnish national squad in that sport as well. In Oslo 1952 he won his second Olympic gold as the opening skier in Finland’s victorious relay team.

Hasu was selected Finnish Athlete of the Year in 1948 and 1950. He later served as member of the Finnish Parliament.

Veikko Huhtanen (1919–1976)

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3 kultamitalin ja 5 mitalin mies Huhtanen voimistelee renkailla Lontoon olympialaisissa 1948.

Veikko Huhtanen (1919–1976)

Winner of three Olympic gold medals, Veikko Huhtanen is the most successful Finnish gymnast of all time.

Huhtanen dominated the gymnastics events at the 1948 Olympic Games in London. He won gold in the overall competition, the team competition and in the pommelled horse, where he shared victory with his team-mates Paavo Aaltonen and Heikki Savolainen. Huhtanen also took silver in parallel bars and bronze in horizontal bar.

During his later career Huhtanen often suffered from injuries. He recovered enough to win silver in horizontal bar at the World Championships of 1950, but in 1952 shoulder injury robbed him of chance to defend his Olympic titles in front of home audience in Helsinki.

MIKA HÄKKINEN (b. 28 September 1968)

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MIKA HÄKKINEN (b. 28 September 1968)

Mika Häkkinen won the Formula One world championship titles of 1998 and 1999 with McLaren.

Häkkinen began his racing career in karting classes. He won the British F3 championship title in 1990 and made his debut in Formula One with Lotus in 1991. Two years later he moved to McLaren. Häkkinen’s promising career almost came to end in a serious crash in Adelaide in late 1995, but he made a speedy recovery and raced again at the start of the next season.

“The Flying Finn” took his first Grand Prix victory in the last race of the 1997 season at Jérez. That was followed by two World Championship titles on the trot in 1998 and 1999. In 2000 Häkkinen finished second behind Michael Schumacher.

Häkkinen retired from the F1 circuit after the 2001 season having taken a total of 20 Grand Prix victories.

 

HEIKKI IKOLA (b. 9 September 1947)

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HEIKKI IKOLA (b. 9 September 1947)

Heikki Ikola is the most successful Finnish biathlonist of all time. He won three Olympic silver medals and a total of four gold and three silver medals at World Championships.

Soldier by profession, Ikola took his first medal, silver in the relay, at Olympic Winter Games of 1972 in Sapporo. Four years later at the Innsbruck Games he finished second in the individual 20-kilometre race and took silver again in the relay. At World Championships Ikola won gold medals in 20 kilometres and relay in Anterselva 1975, gold in 20 kilometres in Lillehammer 1977 and one more gold in the 20 km race in front of home audience in Lahti in 1981.

Ikola was elected Finnish Athlete of the Year in 1975 and 1981.

Volmari Iso-Hollo (1907–1969)

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Volmari Iso-Hollo (1907–1969)

Volmari Iso-Hollo won two Olympic titles in 3000 metres steeplechase and two more medals in 10,000 metres in 1932 and 1936.

In 1928 Iso-Hollo, representing the Finnish Workers’ Sport Federation, won the 3000-metre and 5000-metre races at the Spartakiads in Moscow. He became eligible for the Olympic Games after switching federations in the early 1930’s. Iso-Hollo became the Olympic steeplechase champion in both Los Angeles 1932 and Berlin 1936.

In 10,000 metres Iso-Hollo took Olympic silver in Los Angeles and bronze in Berlin, where he finished third behind his fellow Finns Ilmari Salminen and Arvo Askola.

 

Ludowika Jakobsson (1884–1968) & Walter Jakobsson (1882–1957)

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Ludowika Jakobsson (1884–1968) & Walter Jakobsson (1882–1957)

Figure skating pair Ludowika and Walter Jakobsson won the first Olympic gold medal for Finland as an independent country in Antwerp 1920.

Walter Jakobsson met the German skater Ludowika Eilers when he studied engineering in Berlin in 1908. Three years later the couple married and Ludowika took Finnish nationality. They won their first World Championship title in 1911 and performed to great success in ice palaces of Central Europe before the First World War.

The Jakobssons were already seasoned veterans when they won the Olympic gold in pairs skating in Antwerp 1920. Four years later they took another Olympic medal, silver at the Chamonix Games. They also won three World Championship titles: in 1911, 1914 and 1923.

Martti Jukola (1900–1952)

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Martti Jukola (1900–1952)

Martti Jukola was Finland’s most famous sports journalist during the golden years of Finnish athletics.

Jukola was a long-standing editor of Suomen Urheilulehti, Finland’s leading sports journal. He also edited Urheilun pikkujättiläinen, a 1,600-page compendium of sports history, statistics, rules and training advice that became the best-selling sports book in Finnish history and inspired generations of future athletes.

Most Finns knew Martti Jukola best as a radio commentator. His broadcasts brought the greatest moments of Finnish sports to people’s living rooms from the 1930’s to the early 1950’s.

Matti Järvinen (1909–1986)

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Matti Järvinen (1909–1986)

Matti Järvinen dominated the world of javelin throwing in the 1930’s.

Järvinen made ten consecutive official world records between 1930 and 1936, improving his mark from 71.57 to 77.23 metres. He won Olympic gold in Los Angeles 1932 and European Championship titles in Turin 1934 and Paris 1938.

Youngest of the four sons of Verner Järvinen and coached by his father, Matti Järvinen was a versatile athletic talent: his success was based on speed and subtle technique rather than strength. After his own career Järvinen passed on his knowledge to future generations as coach and sports instructor.

Verner Järvinen (1870-1941)

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Verner Järvinen (1870-1941)

Verner Järvinen was the first Finnish Olympic champion in track and field athletics.

Railway worker Verner Järvinen was already known as a famous strongman when modern sports arrived in Finland in the first decade of the 20th century. In 1906 he travelled to the Intercalated Olympic Games in Athens, where he won gold in Ancient style discus throw and bronze in the modern discus event. Two years later in London Järvinen took Olympic bronze in the Ancient style discus competition. These were Finland’s first Olympic medals in track and field athletics.

“Father” Järvinen raised and coached his four sons to world elite athletes. Akilles Järvinen won Olympic silver in decathlon in 1928 and 1932. Matti Järvinen became the best javelin thrower in the world in the 1930’s.

Eino Kaakkolahti (1929-2014)

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Eino Kaakkolahti (1929-2014)

Eino Kaakkolahti is one of the most celebrated pesäpallo (Finnish baseball) players of all time.

Kaakkolahti played 18 seasons as pitcher in the Finnish championship league, winning four gold, three silver and three bronze medals. He won six best pitcher’s awards but also led the league in batting once (in 1953), which a highly exceptional feat for a pitcher.

The annual all-star East–West game is the highpoint of the pesäpallo season. Eino Kaakkolahti was selected to the game 16 times between 1948 and 1964, setting a record that stayed unbroken for 44 years.

Elin Kallio (1859–1927)

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Elin Kallio (1859–1927)

Elin Kallio laid the basis of the world-famous Finnish women’s gymnastics movement.

In 1876 Elin Kallio (née Waenerberg) founded a women’s gymnastics club in Helsinki, the oldest of its kind in the Nordic countries. In 1896 she initiated the founding of the Finnish Women’s Gymnastics Federation. Kallio served as the president of the federation until 1917.

In addition to her organisational activities Elin Kallio was an influential educator: she wrote the first training manuals and theoretical works on women’s gymnastics in Finland. Kallio’s aim was to create a women’s gymnastics movement that was independent of male authorities. It was due to her tenacity that the movement grew into a strong and integral part of Finnish physical culture.

KAARLO KANGASNIEMI (b. 4 February 1941)

Hall of Fame of Finnish Sport

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KAARLO KANGASNIEMI (b. 4 February 1941)

Kaarlo Kangasniemi was the first Finnish Olympic champion in weightlifting. He won Finland’s only gold medal at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico.

Kangasniemi dominated the 90 kg weight class for several years. In 1969 he won gold at both World and European Championships and in 1970 took the European title again. All in all, Kangasniemi collected a total of 40 World and European championship medals in different weightlifting disciplines and made 17 world records.

VEIKKO KANKKONEN (b. 5 January 1940)

Hall of Fame of Finnish Sport

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VEIKKO KANKKONEN (b. 5 January 1940)

Veikko Kankkonen was the first Finnish ski jumper who won two medals at one Olympic Games.

In the winter of 1964 Veikko Kankkonen dominated the ski jumping world. After winning the Four Hills Tournament he took gold in the normal hill event and silver in the large hill at the Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck and concluded the season by winning the prestigious jumping competitions in Lahti and Oslo.

Kankkonen won his second Four Hills title in 1966 but injury in training robbed him of chance to win medals at the World Championships that year. He retired from ski jumping after competing in his third Olympic Games in 1968.

Kaarina Kari (1888–1982)

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Kaarina Kari (1888–1982)

Professor Kaarina Kari was a groundbreaking leader and educator in the Finnish women’s gymnastics movement.

 

Kaarina Kari served as president of the Finnish Women’s Gymnastics Federation for 33 years between 1921 and 1954. Her extensive international contacts contributed to the high prestige enjoyed by Finland in women’s gymnastics circles worldwide. In 1949 Kari was instrumental in the founding of Kisakallio Sports Institute as a training centre for female gymnasts of all ages.

Kari wrote dozens of books and manuals on gymnastics and women’s physical activity. She received an honourary doctorate from the University of Jyväskylä in 1969.

 

TANJA KARI (b. 30 August 1971)

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Tanja Kari

Tanja Kari ©Finnish Paralympic Committee

TANJA KARI (b. 30 August 1971)

Tanja Kari (née Tervonen) won a total of eleven gold medals at five Paralympic Winter Games between 1988 and 2002. She was inducted into the International Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2010.

Kari won all three individual gold medals in cross-country skiing in her arm amputee class at the Paralympic Games of 1998 in Nagano as well as in Salt Lake City 2002. She also won nine world championship and four European championship titles in Paralympic cross-country skiing.

After her skiing career Kari has served as member of Athletes Commission in the International Paralympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

PERTTI KARPPINEN (b. 17 February 1953)

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PERTTI KARPPINEN (b. 17 February 1953)

Winner of three Olympic gold medals in single sculls, Pertti Karppinen is the most successful Finnish rower of all time.

Karppinen’s first Olympic victory in Montreal 1976 was a major surprise. In Moscow 1980 he took an overwhelming victory, and in Los Angeles 1984 he won his third gold medal in a grueling final race. In addition to his Olympic titles Karppinen won two gold, two silver and one bronze medal in single sculls at the World Championships between 1977 and 1987. In 1981 he teamed up with his brother Reima to take World Championship silver in double sculls.

MARJA-LIISA KIRVESNIEMI (b.10 September 1955)

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Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi © Helge Heinonen

MARJA-LIISA KIRVESNIEMI (b.10 September 1955)

Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi (née Hämäläinen) is the most successful Finnish female Olympic athlete of all time.

In 1984 in Sarajevo Marja-Liisa Hämäläinen made Olympic history by winning gold in all three individual women’s cross-country skiing races: 5 km, 10 km and 20 km. Another highpoint in her career was the 1989 World Championships in Lahti, where she won gold in 10 km and the relay race in front of home audience.

Kirvesniemi retired from skiing after taking two bronze medals at the Lillehammer Olympic Games in 1994. During her long career she won a total of seven Olympic medals, eight World Championship medals and two overall World Cup titles. She also became the first female athlete in the world to participate at six Olympic Winter Games (1976–1994).

Hannes Kolehmainen (1889–1966)

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Hannes Kolehmainen (1889–1966)

Hannes Kolehmainen heralded the golden era of Finnish long-distance running with his three gold medals at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm.

Kolehmainen’s most memorable feat in Stockholm was winning the 5000-metre final with a new world record time of 14:36.6 in a neck-to-neck duel with Jean Bouin of France. He also won gold medals in 10,000 metres and the individual cross-country race. The Olympic victories of Kolehmainen and other Finnish athletes fuelled Finland’s struggle for national self-determination; Finland was still part of the Russian Empire at the time.

After his Olympic triumphs in Stockholm Kolehmainen emigrated to the United States. “The Smiling Finn” dominated track meets and street races in America in the 1910’s. In 1920 he came back to represent Finland, by then an independent country, at the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games and won gold in the marathon.

JARI KURRI (b. 18 May 1960)

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JARI KURRI (b. 18 May 1960)

Jari Kurri was the first Finnish ice hockey player who rose to stardom in the National Hockey League (NHL) in North America.

Kurri first made headlines when he scored the winning goal for Finland in the final of the European U18 Championships in 1978. Two years later he joined the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL. Kurri formed a famous offense line partnership with Wayne Gretzky, who is considered the greatest hockey player ever. The pair led the Oilers to five Stanley Cup championships (1984, 1985, 1987 and 1988). Kurri won his fifth Cup title in 1990 when Gretzky had already left the Oilers.

In his later years Jari Kurri played for Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Colorado Avalanche. He finished his NHL career in 1998, having scored 601 goals and 797 assists for 1,398 points, highest ever numbers for a European player at that time.

In the Finnish national team Kurri won Olympic bronze in 1998 and World Championship silver in 1994. In 2001 he became the first Finnish player who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Kurri also served in the Athletes Commission of the International Olympic Committee between 2002 and 2006.

JANNE LAHTELA (b. 28 February 1974)

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Janne Lahtela Salt Lake City 2002 ©Sports Museum of Finlad Giuliano Bevilacqua

JANNE LAHTELA (b. 28 February 1974)

Janne Lahtela won Olympic gold in moguls skiing at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

Lahtela participated at five Olympic Winter Games between 1994 and 2006. He won silver in Nagano 1998 before striking gold in Salt Lake City four years later. In 1999 he won the World Championship moguls title at Meiringen-Hasliberg, Switzerland, leading Finnish skiers to a full sweep of medals. He also won three World Cup titles in moguls and two in dual moguls while collecting a total of 23 World Cup victories.

After finishing his own career in 2006 Lahtela has coached the national moguls skiing teams of Japan and Finland.

TIINA LILLAK (b. 15 April 1961)

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TIINA LILLAK (b. 15 April 1961)

Tiina Lillak won the host nation’s only gold medal at the first World Athletics Championships in Helsinki in 1983.

Lillak was favoured to win the women’s javelin title in Helsinki: she had made a new world record of 72.40 metres in 1982 and improved her mark to 74.76 in June 1983. The competition was more exciting than expected, however: Lillak made her winning throw on her last attempt.

In 1984 Lillak was injured before the Los Angeles Games but she still managed to take Olympic silver. Her later career was marred by further injuries. She retired from javelin throwing in 1992.

 

Curt Lincoln (1918–2005)

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Curt Lincoln (1918–2005)

Curt Lincoln was known as Grand Old Man of Finnish automobile racing. He took 14 victories in the legendary Eläintarha Race.

The Eläintarha Race was the biggest motorsport event in Finland in its time. It took place each May from 1932 to 1963 on a hilly circuit in a park in the center of Helsinki. Curt Lincoln started in the race for the first time in 1949 and took his first victory two years later. Lincoln won a total of 14 trophies in various classes, before the Eläintarha Race was discontinued after a mortal accident in 1963.

Lincoln took up the task of organising a replacement race. He was instrumental in the building of Keimola racing track, which was opened near Helsinki in 1966.

Pentti Linnosvuo (1933–2010)

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Pentti Linnosvuo (1933–2010)

Two-time Olympic champion Pentti Linnosvuo is the most successful Finnish sport shooter of all time.

Pentti Linnosvuo took part in pistol shooting at five Olympic Games between 1952 and 1968. He won Finland’s first Olympic shooting gold medal in Melbourne 1956. His victory was surprising, as it came in his secondary event, the free pistol. In Rome 1960 Linnosvuo took silver in his favourite competition, the rapid-fire pistol, and in Tokyo 1964 he won his second Olympic title in the rapid-fire event.

Linnosvuo was always at his best where it mattered most: at the Olympic Games. At World Championships he won one team gold medal and one individual bronze.

JARI LITMANEN (b. 20 February 1971)

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JARI LITMANEN (b. 20 February 1971)

Jari Litmanen was the first Finnish world star football player.

Bought by Ajax Amsterdam in 1992, Litmanen made his breakthrough in the 1993–94 season when he was best goalscorer in the Dutch League. In 1995 he was a key player in Ajax’s Champions League victory and came third in the vote for European football player of the year (Ballon d’Or). He also became the first team sport player to be voted Finnish Athlete of the Year. Ajax reached the Champions League final in the following season as well, with Litmanen scoring nine goals in the campaign.

Litmanen’s later career was hampered by recurrent injuries. He played for Barcelona, Liverpool and Ajax again before returning to the Finnish League in 2004. In the Finnish national team Litmanen was a towering force: he leads the statistics in matches played (137) and goals scored (32) for Finland.

Tauno Luiro (1932–1955)

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Tauno Luiro (1932–1955)

World record holder Tauno Luiro was the first Finnish ski jumper of international fame.

On 2 March 1951 Tauno Luiro, only 19 at the time, set a new world record of 139 metres in a ski flying competition in Oberstdorf, Germany. The record remained unbeaten for ten years.

Luiro took part at the Olympic Winter Games of 1952 in Oslo, but health problems made his career tragically short. He suffered from diabetes and died of lung tuberculosis at the age of 23.

Aappo Luomajoki (1845–1919)

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Aappo Luomajoki (1845–1919)

Aappo Luomajoki was the first Finnish skier of national fame.

Luomajoki was a farm worker from Haapavesi in North-Central Finland. He was an avid hunter and in winters used to ski for dozens of kilometres in search of grouse. Luomajoki was already 44 when he won the first major skiing competition in Finland, held in 1889 on sea ice off the town of Oulu.

In 1891 Luomajoki took his second victory in the Oulu ski race. In the following year he won a skiing competition in Helsinki. Also in 1892 he was selected to represent Finland at an international skiing race, first of its kind, in Stockholm but he fell sick and was unable to travel abroad. Luomajoki took part in the Oulu ski races until the age of 51.

JUHA MIETO (b. 20 November 1949)

Hall of Fame of Finnish Sport

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Juha Mieto © Helge Heinonen

JUHA MIETO (b. 20 November 1949)

Juha Mieto was a towering presence in the cross-country skiing world in the 1970’s. Still, he became most famous for losing a race.

In 1980 Mieto finished second in the 15-kilometre race at the Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid after losing the gold to Sweden’s Thomas Wassberg by the smallest possible margin, 0.01 seconds. That caused a rule change in cross-country skiing: times have since that been measured by tenths of a second.

Mieto collected a total of five Olympic and four World Championship medals between 1974 and 1984, but his only gold came in the relay race at the Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck 1976. He also won the 1976 and 1980 editions of the yet unofficial World Cup.

KAIJA MUSTONEN (b. 4 August 1941)

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KAIJA MUSTONEN (b. 4 August 1941)

Kaija Mustonen is the most successful Finnish female speed skater of all time.

Mustonen was always at her best at the Olympic Games. In 1964 she took silver in 1500 metres and bronze in 1000 metres in Innsbruck. Four years later in Grenoble Mustonen skated to gold in 1500 metres and silver in 3000 metres. She was the only Finnish Olympic champion at the 1968 Winter Games.

Timo Mäkinen (1938–2017)

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Timo Mäkinen (1938–2017)

Timo Mäkinen heralded the breakthrough of Finnish rally drivers to international fame.

In 1965 Mäkinen became the first Finnish driver to win the legendary Monte Carlo Rally. He would have won the race again in the following year, if the jury had not controversially disqualified the Mini Cooper cars for a technicality.

Mäkinen’s rally career spanned four decades. He took four victories in the Finnish Rally of the 1000 Lakes and three in the British RAC Rally. One of his most memorable feats was to drive the legendary Ouninpohja stage of the 1967 Rally of the 1000 Lakes with his car’s bonnet up.

Elmer Niklander (1890–1942)

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Elmer Niklander (1890–1942)

Winner of four Olympic medals in athletics strength events, Elmer Niklander was one of Finland’s most popular sports heroes for more than 15 years. He would probably have won even more medals if the First World War had not intervened.

In 1911 Niklander made an unofficial world record in discus throw, 44.01 metres. At the Stockholm Olympic Games of 1912 Niklander was nursing an ankle injury and had to contend with silver in both hands discus competition behind his younger compatriot Armas Taipale. He also took bronze in both hands shot put.

Eight years later in Antwerp Niklander had his revenge: after taking silver in shot put he beat Taipale in the discus throw final, thus finally becoming an Olympic champion. Niklander retired from athletics after taking part in his fourth Olympic Games in Paris 1924.

Paavo Nurmi (1897–1973)

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Paavo Nurmi (1897–1973)

Paavo Nurmi is one of the most successful athletes in all Olympic history.

Known as “The Flying Finn”, Nurmi won a total of nine gold medals at three Olympic Games between 1920 and 1928. He made 20 official world records in outdoor events and almost 30 unofficial ones in indoor races.

Nurmi performed his most famous feats in the Olympic summer of 1924: he broke the world records in both 1500 and 5000 metres inside one hour in June and one month later won five gold medals at the Olympic Games in Paris. In the following winter Nurmi made a spectacular tour in North America, winning 51 of his 55 races.

In 1932 Nurmi was preparing to crown his career with victory in the Olympic marathon, but just before the Los Angeles Games he was banned from international athletics due to breach of amateur rules. In 1952 he carried the torch to the Stadium at the opening ceremony of the Helsinki Olympic Games.

 

LIISA PELTOLA (b. 4 April 1951)

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Liisa Veijalainen

LIISA PELTOLA (b. 4 April 1951)

Liisa Veijalainen (later Peltola) was the first Finnish individual world champion in orienteering. Between 1972 and 1981 she collected a total of eight World Championship medals: four gold and four silver.

Veijalainen won her first World Championship title in the relay race in 1972. Four years later she made Finnish orienteering history by winning the gold medal in women’s individual race at the World Championships at Aviemore, Scotland. After giving birth to her first child she returned to competitions and won two more relay titles in 1978 and 1979 as well as individual silver in the same years. Her last World Championship medal was silver in the relay in 1981.

Robert Petersen (1928–2003)

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Robert Petersen (1928–2003)

American-born coach Robert Petersen played a central role in the development of Finnish basketball.

Alumnus of the famous basketball college Brigham Young University, Petersen came to Finland as a Mormon missionary in 1949. The missionaries formed a basketball team that played exhibition games all over the country. In 1952 Petersen served as assistant coach of the Finnish basketball team at the Helsinki Olympic Games.

Petersen returned to Finland to stay in 1959. He worked with the Finnish national team as assistant coach again at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo as well as the European Championships of 1967 in Helsinki. In 1969 he took over as head coach and kept that post, except for an interlude of one year, until 1982. In later years Petersen worked as director of coaching at the Finnish Basketball Association, honing several generations of Finnish players and coaches.

Lauri Pihkala (1888–1981)

Hall of Fame of Finnish Sport

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Lauri Pihkala (1888–1981)

Lauri ”Tahko” Pihkala was an influential journalist and firebrand educator who made lasting contributions to Finnish sports on many fronts.

Pihkala represented Finland in athletics events at the Olympic Games of 1908 and 1912. After finishing his own sports career he moved to coaching. He was put in charge of sports education in the Finnish military but even more important was his work as writer and sports philosopher. Pihkala considered sports success of little value if does not contribute to general rise in fitness level of the whole nation.

The most famous of Pihkala’s many inventions was pesäpallo, a bat-and-ball game that combines elements of American baseball and old Finnish folk games. Conceived by Pihkala in the early 1920’s, pesäpallo is often considered the national game in Finland. The annual Lahti Ski Games, the Sports Institute of Finland at Vierumäki and skiing vacations for Finnish schoolchildren are also counted among Tahko Pihkala’s legacies.

Kustaa Pihlajamäki (1902–1944)

Hall of Fame of Finnish Sport

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Kustaa Pihlajamäki (1902–1944)

Kustaa Pihlajamäki was Finland’s most famous wrestler in the interwar years.

Pihlajamäki won Olympic gold in Freestyle wrestling in Paris 1924 and took his second Olympic victory twelve years later in Berlin. He also gained silver in Amsterdam 1928. In non-Olympic years Pihlajamäki concentrated on European Championships, winning no fewer than nine gold medals between 1931 and 1939. Pihlajamäki was equally at ease in both two wrestling techniques: at the Olympic Games he always competed in Freestyle wrestling, at the European Championships in Greco-Roman style.

Pihlajamäki was a policeman and came from a famous wrestling family: his cousin Hermanni Pihlajamäki won Olympic gold in freestyle wrestling in 1932. Kustaa Pihlajamäki died of peritonitis at the age of only 41.

TOMI POIKOLAINEN (b. 27 December 1961)

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Tomi Poikolainen © Helge Heinonen

TOMI POIKOLAINEN (b. 27 December 1961)

Tomi Poikolainen is the only Finnish Olympic gold medallist in archery.

Poikolainen was only 18 when he won gold at the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980. He still is the youngest ever Finnish Olympic champion at Summer Games. In Moscow Poikolainen was in seventh place after the first of four days of competition but he rose steadily in the ranks. When the last arrows were being shot the archers were disturbed by a sudden rain shower. Poikolainen kept his nerves best, overtook his rivals and won the gold medal.

Twelve years later in Barcelona Poikolainen took another Olympic medal, silver in the team competition. He also won three medals at World Championship and eight at European Championships. He took his other individual gold medal at the 1986 European Championships in Izmir, Turkey.

 

TANJA POUTIAINEN-RINNE (b. 6 April 1980)

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Tanja Poutiainen © Giuliano Bevilacqua

TANJA POUTIAINEN-RINNE (b. 6 April 1980)

Tanja Poutiainen is the only Finnish Olympic medallist in Alpine skiing. She took silver in giant slalom at the Turin Winter Games of 2006.

Poutiainen took part in five Olympic Winter Games between 1998 and 2014. In addition to Olympic silver she gained four medals at World Championships. In the World Cup Poutiainen won the trophies in both slalom and giant slalom in 2005 and in giant slalom in 2009. She won a total 11 World Cup races and gathered total of 48 podium places.

In Alpine circles Poutiainen is best remembered for her remarkable consistency: she once finished 70 consecutive World Cup races without mishap.

Ville Pörhölä (1897–1964)

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Ville Pörhölä (1897–1964)

Ville Pörhölä won Olympic medals in two different athletic field sports.

In Antwerp 1920 Ville Pörhölä defeated his older compatriot Elmer Niklander and all American favourites to win Olympic gold in shot put. Back pains forced him to retire from shot putting but a few years later he made a comeback to athletics as a hammer thrower. In 1932 Pörhölä took silver in his new event at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Two years later he won gold at the first European Championships in Turin, Italy.

Pörhölä hailed from Tornio on the border between Finland and Sweden. In 1952 in a ceremony in his home town he united the two Olympic flames bound for the Olympic Games in Helsinki: one lit in Greece and carried to Finland through Sweden and another one lit from rays of the midnight sun in Finnish Lapland.

SIIRI RANTANEN (b. 14 December 1924)

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SIIRI RANTANEN (b. 14 December 1924)

Siiri Rantanen clinched victory for Finland in the first ever women’s Olympic relay skiing competition in Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956 by beating the Soviet skier in the anchor leg.

In Oslo 1952 Siiri Rantanen took bronze in women’s first individual Olympic skiing race, completing Finland’s clean sweep of medals in the 10 km event. Her third Olympic medal was bronze in the relay in 1960. At the World Championships Rantanen collected two individual and three relay medals between 1954 and 1962.

“Mother” Rantanen was an exceptional figure in Finnish sports circles, as she already had two children before gaining success in skiing; in the 1950’s it was still rare for women to continue in sports after marriage.

Tapio Rautavaara (1915–1979)

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Tapio Rautavaara (1915–1979)

Tapio Rautavaara was not only an Olympic javelin champion but also one of Finland’s most famous musicians and actors of his time.

Rautavaara rose to the Finnish javelin throw elite in the late 1930’s and finished second at the Worker’s Olympiad of 1937 in Antwerp. He lost his prime sporting years in the war but made a successful return afterwards, taking bronze at the European Championships of 1946 in Oslo. Two years later Rautavaara crowned his athletics career with Olympic javelin gold in London.

At the time of his Olympic victory Rautavaara was already a popular singer and movie star, and in the 1950’s he became one of Finland’s most beloved entertainers. After finishing his javelin career he took up archery and won team gold medal at the World Championships of 1958.

Ville Ritola (1896–1982)

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Ville Ritola (1896–1982)

Ville Ritola made Olympic history by winning six medals in athletics at the Paris Games of 1924.

Ritola lived most of his life in the United States, where he emigrated at the age of 17. He returned to Finland only to represent his home country at the Olympic Games in 1924 and 1928, winning a total of five gold and three silver medals.

Even with such achievements Ritola was still eclipsed by his fellow countryman Paavo Nurmi. In Paris 1924 Ritola finished second behind Nurmi in two races and won his two individual gold medals in events where Nurmi did not participate, 10,000 metres and 3000-metre steeplechase. In Amsterdam 1928 Ritola finally got the better of Nurmi in the final of 5000 metres.

Jarno Saarinen (1945–1973)

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Jarno Saarinen (1945–1973)

Jarno Saarinen was the first Finnish world champion in motorcycle road racing. His life came to a tragic end in an accident during the Italian Grand Prix in 1973.

Saarinen won his first Grand Prix race in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1971. In the following season he collected a total of seven victories in two classes and was crowned world champion of the 250 cm³ category. He clinched the title in front of 50,000 celebrating countrymen in the Finnish Grand Prix at Imatra.

In 1973 Saarinen started the racing season in superb fashion. He was leading the world championship competition in both 250 cm³ and 500 cm³ classes before the fateful Italian Grand Prix at Monza on 20 May.

Veli Saarinen (1902–1969)

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Veli Saarinen (1902–1969)

Veli Saarinen was Finland’s first Olympic skiing champion.

Saarinen won gold in 50 kilometres at the Olympic Winter Games of 1932 in Lake Placid. The silver medallist Väinö Liikkanen hailed from the same village in southeastern Finland. Saarinen’s victory was no accident: he had already been the best Finnish skier at the previous Olympic Games in St. Moritz and won gold in 18 kilometres at the FIS races (world championships) of 1929 in Zakopane, Poland. At the Lake Placid Games he had already taken bronze in the 18-kilometre race.

After his own career Saarinen became the head coach of the Finnish skiing team. He stayed in that position for more than 30 years until 1968, leading Finnish men and women to dozens of Olympic and World Championship medals.

Sylvi Saimo (1914–2004)

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Sylvi Saimo (1914–2004)

Sylvi Saimo was the first Finnish woman to win an Olympic gold medal in summer sports.

Saimo used to practice skiing, orienteering and athletics in her younger years: she was 32 when she took up canoeing. In 1948 she finished sixth in women’s 500 metres kayak singles race at the Olympic Games in London. Two years later she was crowned world champion in Copenhagen. In Helsinki 1952 Saimo enraptured the home crowd by winning Olympic gold in a tight final race.

After finishing her sports career Sylvi Saimo entered politics and served in the Finnish Parliament for 12 years. She lived and worked on her own farm until the age of 90.

Heikki Savolainen (1907–1997)

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Heikki Savolainen (1907–1997)

The gymnastics career of Heikki Savolainen is hard to fathom: he competed at five Olympic Games despite missing two because of the Second World War and won a total of nine Olympic medals, including two golden ones.

Savolainen’s first Olympic medal was bronze in pommelled horse in Amsterdam 1928. In Los Angeles 1932 he gathered one silver and three bronze medals and in Berlin 1936 bronze in the team competition. In 1948 Savolainen was working as town doctor when he was persuaded to return to gymnastics and join the Finnish Olympic team for the London Games. Once there he won gold in the team competition and another one in the pommelled horse. Four years later in Helsinki Savolainen was back again and gained bronze in the team event. He also swore the athletes’ oath at the opening ceremony of the Helsinki Games.

HELENA TAKALO (b. 28 October 1947)

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HELENA TAKALO (b. 28 October 1947)

Helena Takalo was the most successful Finnish skier in the 1970’s.

Takalo won her first Olympic medal, silver in the relay, in Sapporo 1972. In 1974 she took her first individual medal, bronze in 10 kilometres at the World Championships in Falun. The year 1976 marked Takalo’s breakthrough to the very top: she won Olympic gold in 5 kilometres, silver in 10 kilometres and silver in the relay at the Innsbruck Winter Games.

Two years later at the World Championships in Lahti, Finland, Takalo thrilled the home crowd by winning gold in 5 km and leading Finland to victory in the relay. Her fifth and last Olympic medal was bronze in 10 kilometres at the 1980 Games in Lake Placid.

Clas Thunberg (1893–1973)

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Clas Thunberg (1893–1973)

Clas Thunberg was the most successful speed skater in the world in the 1920’s. Winner of five gold medals, he still ranks high in the list of best Olympic athletes of all time.

In 1924 Thunberg won three gold medals at the inaugural Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix. Four years later in St. Moritz he took two more Olympic titles. In 1932 Thunberg was still in form but he refused to travel to the Lake Placid Games were Olympic medals were decided in unfamiliar mass start races.

In addition to his seven Olympic medals Thunberg won five overall titles at World Championships and four at European Championships between 1922 and 1932. He was especially popular in Norway, where thousands of people including the king came to see his farewell race in Oslo in 1935.

Pekka Tiilikainen (1911–1976)

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Pekka Tiilikainen (1911–1976)

Pekka Tiilikainen was Finland’s most famous sportscaster. His career in radio spanned four decades.

In his own sports career Tiilikainen won Finnish championship titles in swimming and water polo. He started working for the Finnish public broadcasting company YLE in 1935. After the war he was promoted to main sportscaster and stayed on the air until his retirement until 1971.

Tiilikainen was famous for his long and emotional monologues that evoked patriotic sentiments, for which he earned the nickname “Blue-and-white voice”.

PERTTI UKKOLA (b. 10 August 1950)

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PERTTI UKKOLA (b. 10 August 1950)

Pertti Ukkola is the only Finnish wrestler who has held the Olympic, World Championship and European Championship titles simultaneously.

In Montreal 1976 Ukkola won gold in the 57 kg category of Greco-Roman wrestling. That was Finland’s first Olympic wrestling title in 20 years. In the following spring he won the European championship title in Bursa, Turkey, and in October 1977 conquered the World Championship title in Gothenburg, Sweden.

JUKKA UUNILA (b. 4 June 1923)

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JUKKA UUNILA (b. 4 June 1923)

Jukka Uunila was the most prominent Finnish sports leader of the latter half of the 20th century.

Uunila was a driving force in Finland’s return to the forefront of world track and field athletics in the 1970’s. Innovative coaching methods and administrative reforms introduced in the Finnish Athletics Association under his presidency between 1965 and 1974 were adopted in many other Finnish sports as well.

In the Finnish Olympic Committee Uunila served as chairman of the coaching commission from 1965 to 1969. He was then elected President of the FOC and kept that position for 15 years, during which time Finnish athletes won a total of 68 Olympic medals. Uunila also served as chairman of the Finnish central sports federation SVUL from 1982 to 1993.

PEKKA VASALA (b. 17 April 1948)

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Pekka Vasala © Giuliano Bevilacqua

PEKKA VASALA (b. 17 April 1948)

Pekka Vasala was the other hero on an unforgettable day for Finnish athletics. On 10 September 1972 in Munich he won Olympic gold in 1500 metres only one hour after Lasse Virén had won the 5000-metre final.

Vasala first showed promise in 1971 when he beat the Kenyan reigning Olympic champion Kipchoge Keino in a 1500-metre race in Helsinki. In the following summer Vasala broke the European record in 800 metres, but he decided to concentrate on 1500 metres at the Olympic Games. In the Olympic final in Munich Vasala overtook Keino in the last bend and beat him in a fierce duel to the finish line.

 

LASSE VIRÉN (b. 22 July 1949)

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Lasse Virén © Giuliano Bevilacqua

LASSE VIRÉN (b. 22 July 1949)

Lasse Virén was the first runner who won gold in both 5000 and 10,000 metres at two Olympic Games.

In Munich 1972 Virén won the Olympic 10,000-metre final in a world record time of 27:38.4 despite tripping and falling before the half-way mark. He also won gold in 5000 metres and a couple of weeks later in Helsinki capped his year with a new world record in 5000 metres, 13:16.3.

Virén was haunted by injuries during the next few years, but in the Olympic summer of 1976 he was back in great form. In Montreal he renewed his title in 10,000 metres in overwhelming fashion. In 5000 metres Virén made perhaps his greatest race ever, wearing out his opponents with his trademark surge of speed on the last two laps. Only one day later Virén ran the Olympic marathon and finished fifth.

Verner Weckman (1882–1968)

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Verner Weckman (1882–1968)

Wrestler Verner Weckman was the first Finnish Olympic champion. He won gold in the Intercalated Olympic Games in Athens in 1906 and repeated his victory two years later in London.

Weckman won a world championship title in Greco-Roman heavyweight category in 1905 while studying for an engineering degree in Germany. In 1906 he travelled to Athens as the only wrestler in the four-man Finnish Olympic team and pinned all his opponents to win gold in the middleweight division.

In London 1908 Weckman took his second Olympic victory by defeating his fellow Finn Yrjö Saarela 2–1 in best-of-three finals of the Greco-Roman heavy middleweight category. He retired from wrestling immediately afterwards.

Ivar Wilskman (1854–1932)

Hall of Fame of Finnish Sport

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Ivar Wilskman (1854–1932)

Ofter called “The Father of Finnish Sports”, Ivar Wilskman was an educator and gymnastics leader who played a pivotal part in the early development of the Finnish sports movement.

In his work as gymnastics instructor at the University of Helsinki around the turn of the 20th century Wilskman inspired the generation of young men who started organised sports in Finland. In 1898 he founded Suomen Urheilulehti, which is the second oldest still published sports magazine in the world.

Wilskman was instrumental in the founding of Finland’s first central sports federation in the year 1900. Six years later he was among the founders of SVUL (Finnish Gymnastics and Sports Federation) and served as its first chairman until 1914. He also played a prominent part in the establishment of the Finnish Olympic Committee in 1907. In 1908 Wilskman led the Finnish gymnastics team at the London Olympic Games.

Hall of Fame of Finnish Sports, List of Inductees 2010–2018

Hall of Fame of Finnish Sport

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Suomen Urheilun Hall of Fame Heittopiikkari Karhu Urheilumuseo

Hall of Fame of Finnish Sports, List of Inductees 2010–2018

Name (birth and death years), Category, Year of Induction

 

Paavo Aaltonen (1919–1962), gymnastics, 2018
Kalle Anttila (1887–1975), wrestling, 2010
Gunnar Bärlund (1911–1982), boxing, 2010
Erik von Frenckell (1887–1977), sports leader, 2010
Mika Häkkinen (1968–), automobile sports, 2016
Veikko Hakulinen (1925–2003), skiing, 2010
Heikki Hasu (1926–), Nordic combined, 2014
Veikko Huhtanen (1919–1976), gymnastics, 2010
Heikki Ikola (1947–), biathlon, 2016
Volmari Iso-Hollo (1907–1969), running, 2010
Ludowika Jakobsson (1884–1968), figure skating, 2010
Walter Jakobsson (1882–1957), figure skating, 2010
Matti Järvinen (1909–1986), javelin throw, 2010
Verner Järvinen (1870–1941), discus throw, 2010
Martti Jukola (1900–1952), sports journalism, 2010
Eino Kaakkolahti (1929–2014), pesäpallo, 2014
Elin Kallio (1859–1927), women’s gymnastics, 2010
Kaarlo Kangasniemi (1941–), weightlifting, 2012
Veikko Kankkonen (1940–), ski jumping, 2017
Kaarina Kari (1988–1982), women’s gymnastics, 2017
Tanja Kari (1971–), Paralympic skiing, 2018
Pertti Karppinen (1953–), rowing, 2012
Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi (1955–), skiing, 2011
Hannes Kolehmainen (1889–1966), running, 2010
Jari Kurri (1960– ), ice hockey, 2011
Janne Lahtela (1974–), freestyle skiing, 2016
Tiina Lillak (1961–), javelin throw, 2016
Curt Lincoln (1918–2005), automobile sports, 2010
Pentti Linnosvuo (1933–2010), shooting, 2012
Jari Litmanen (1971–), football, 2013
Tauno Luiro (1932–1955), ski jumping, 2010
Aappo Luomajoki (1845–1919), skiing, 2010
Timo Mäkinen (1938–2017), automobile sports, 2015
Juha Mieto (1949–), skiing, 2014
Kaija Mustonen (1941–), speed skating, 2014
Elmer Niklander (1890–1942), throwing events, 2010
Paavo Nurmi (1897–1973), running, 2010
Liisa Peltola (1951–), orienteering, 2013
Robert Petersen (1928–2003), basketball (coach), 2015
Lauri Pihkala (1888–1981), sports philosophy, 2010
Kustaa Pihlajamäki (1902–1944), wrestling, 2010
Tomi Poikolainen (1961–), archery, 2017
Ville Pörhölä (1897–1964), throwing events, 2010
Tanja Poutiainen-Rinne (1980–), Alpine skiing, 2017
Siiri Rantanen (1924–), skiing, 2012
Tapio Rautavaara (1915–1979), javelin throw, 2010
Ville Ritola (1896–1982), running, 2010
Jarno Saarinen (1945–1973), motorcycling, 2010
Veli Saarinen (1902–1969), skiing, 2010
Sylvi Saimo (1914–2004), canoeing, 2010
Heikki Savolainen (1907–1997), gymnastics, 2010
Helena Takalo (1947–), skiing, 2018
Clas Thunberg (1893–1973), speed skating, 2010
Pekka Tiilikainen (1911–1976), sports journalism, 2017
Pertti Ukkola (1950–), wrestling, 2015
Jukka Uunila (1923–), sports leader, 2013
Pekka Vasala (1948–), running, 2018
Lasse Virén (1949–), running, 2011
Verner Weckman (1882–1968), wrestling, 2010
Ivar Wilskman (1854–1932), sports leader, 2010

Hall of Fame of Finnish Sports, Selection Committee

Hall of Fame of Finnish Sport

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Suomen Urheilun Hall of Fame tuomarit Urheilumuseo

Hall of Fame of Finnish Sports, Selection Committee

Keijo K. Kulha, Chairman

Seppo Hentilä

Helena Hiilivirta

Carl-Olaf Homén

Pekka Honkanen

Reetta Meriläinen

Risto Nieminen

Teemu Saukkonen

Pekka Seppänen

Lauri Tarasti

Kalle Virtapohja