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,

SkiTrax - - Contents - by Peter Graves

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.

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