Lahti 2017 Preview
As everyone who has travelled to Lahti, Finland knows, it is a very special place. Steeped in both Nordic-skiing tradition and great beauty, it is the capital of the Paijanne Tavastia region, which is approximately 100 kilometres northeast of the capital,
Vast tracks of forests surround the area, along with many lakes, a veritable outdoor playground for Finland's eighth-largest city with its population of 118,885, according to the latest census.
Winter-sport legends such as ski jumpers Toni Nieminen and Janne Ahonen call the Lahti-area home. NHL stars are also among them.
The annual Salpausselka, widely known as the Lahti Ski Games, have endured for years, a proud partner in the fabled trio of Holmenkollen in Norway and Falun in Sweden. Racing or jumping in Lahti offers a glimpse into Finnish sports culture. Gleaming stadiums, cheering crowds, blueand-white flags everywhere and knowledgeable ski fans. Salpausselka has a nearly 90-year tradition.
The Ski Games were the brainchild of the late Finnish sports legend Lauri Pihkala, a two-time Olympian and the inventor of the game of pesapallo (a Finnish version of baseball). The Ski Games debuted on Feb. 3-4, 1923, with the first international athletes taking part in 1926. It's a treasured legacy in Finland.
Lahti is the only place to hold the FIS World Nordic Championships six times, and 2017 will be its seventh. The trails for cross-country have been updated, and according to Chris Grover, U.S. head coach, they're great. “The last time we were on them was at last year's pre-world-championship events, and then, we only skied part of the courses. Those were very similar to the courses that we have skied on at every World Cup in Lahti, but now with some new configurations, which make for even more climbing perhaps than some of their traditional courses. But also with some `roll-y' terrain with steep climbs and some fast, fun descents,” said Grover.
At last count this time around, the World Championships will see
250,000+ spectators, more than 2,000 volunteers, 1,500 media personnel and more than 700 athletes from more than 60 nations. Count on huge crowds, with ticket sales already above the 100,000 mark. The global television audience is expected to reach more than 600 million fans, which speaks to the incredible growth of the sport.
There will be 12 days of ski-jumping, Nordic-combined and cross-country competitions. According to Grover, the U.S. World Team will prepare a bit differently for the Championships this time around. In a recent conversation, he said, “We will not have an official pre-camp before the Worlds. This year, we are trying something new. Athletes are selecting the altitude and the training locale best for them. Some athletes will be in Sweden, others in France and Italy, and still others will come back to the U.S. After many months on the road continuously in the Team environment, we wanted athletes to have a chance for a small break from the Team, to possibly reconnect with friends and family, and come into Otepaa and Lahti recharged.”
The jumps will be on a pair of hills – the Normal Hill at HS 100 and the Large Hill at HS 130. And they love their jumping there. The jumping complex is one of the best in the sport, and Sweden's long-time ski-jumping journalist Marit Stub Nybelius recently said that one unique factor in Lahti is a “sensitivity for the wind there. Therefore they have some huge windnets.” In the summer months, the outrun becomes a swimming pool. What's more, the stadium is walking distance from the center of Lahti.
Lahti is not only a marvelous locale for sports, but also for culture, of which the Finns are justifiably proud. Lahti has a wonderful music scene and a new concert centre known as Sibelius Hall, along with an ultra-modern new train hub to assist in enjoying such.
This, while Finland's 100 years of independence is celebrated, makes these historic Championships too good to miss. For more information, visit www.lahti2017.fi/en.
(facing) An aerial view of the Lahti2017 venue.(top) Lahti Ski Games: Maurice Manificat leads Martin Johnsrud Sundby, Niklas Dyrhaug and Hans Christer Holund in the men's Miesten 30km Skiathlon (15k C+15k F).(above left) Knowledgeable Finnish fans sport blue-and-white everywhere.(above right) They love their jumping in Finland – the Normal Hill at HS 100 and the Large Hill at HS 130.
(top) With the stadium within walking distance from the center of town, Lahti is a marvelous site steeped in sports and culture.(above left) The paddock area will see more than 700 athletes from more than 60 nations during the Worlds.(above right) Posters for the Worlds have already attracted ticket sales above the 100,000 mark.