Jim Spier’s Blog:  From Pihitipudas to Kuortane to Helsinki

by Jim Spier

Wednesday July 3 and Thursday July 4

Wednesday was our final day in Kuortane.  The athletes would have one final session with Kimmo in the morning.  Then we would have lunch and head to Helsinki where we would spend the night before heading home on July 4.

It’s about a  4 ½ hour drive from Kuortane to Helsinki.  About halfway is Tampere, the home town of Sam Hardin’s mother, Sanne.  (Sanne and Sam’s father were basketball players at Auburn U.).  We arranged to meet Sanne at a truck stop/convenience store (“ABC”) near the Tampere airport.  We dropped Sam off and said our goodbyes.  Sam will be a freshman at Texas A+M in the fall.

We continued on to Helsinki.  This time ther is a four lane highway vs the two lane highway between Kuortane and Tampere.  We made it to Helsinki at about 5pm.  We had left Kuortane 4 hours prior.

We checked into the hotel, about a mile from the airport.  Life is never simple In Europe – each person had to fill our a form and show  their passport.

We met downstairs at 6:30pm and headed to downtown Helsinki, about 12 miles south.

We parked near the waterfront and wandered around.  It is an impressive old city; the “kids” seemed to really appreciate it.

We found a restaurant on a canal.  I arranged to have a birthday cake after our meal for Todd Ogden.  (not really a cake; but 8 pieces of chocolate cake put together with ice cream on top.  The waitress managed to find some sort of candle as well).

We found our way back to the hotel.  Joy finally got the GPS to work and that made life much easier.

At about 11pm, we gathered all the athletes in the hotel for video interviews, hosted by Paul Limmer.  We then presented a Finnish birthday card to Todd.  Among other well wishes, Kimmo Kinnunen stated (in Finnish) – “eat sausage and throw far”!

We arranged for 4:30am wakeup calls as the flight to Amsterdam left at 7:05am.  I received mine on time, as did all the others.  But I called each room just to make sure.

The airport shuttle took us to the terminal where KLM is housed, and Joy and I made sure everyone received the tickets properly.  All of the athletes used the automated machines and all had their passports at the ready.  We had a really smart group.

I must say I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a group of kids as much as these.  They were respectful, on time and did not complain about a thing.

Josh Richter, Trevor Danielson and Todd Ogden all return next year.  Josh was injured all spring after having thrown 183’ as a freshman in 2012.  Trevor and Todd are 200+ throwers as juniors; Todd got his PR in Pihtipudas – 211-11.  Morgan Tanasejevich is off to Stanford.

Kristen Clark and Katelyn Gochenour return.  Kristen will be a senior and Katelyn a sophomore.  Christine Streisel is off to Duke and Megan Glasmann, like Morgan, will attend Stanford in the fall.  Prior to that, she will compete at the Pan American Junior Championships in August.

With the athletes gone, and having returned to the hotel at 6am, we headed to our rooms to catch up on some sleep.

We left the hotel at 11:30am and went to a local shopping center for breakfast.  We found a very nice coffee shop and ate there.

Now for the challenges I had been dreading – filling up the vans with gas and returning them to the rental agency.  It sounds simple, but in Europe it never is.

We stopped at a gas station near the shopping center.  My credit card (and Paul’s) were rejected.  Since it was an automated station, there were no attendants present.  We had to find another gas station.  I asked someone and she told me there was one about 2 kilometers away.

We went to that gas station and attempted to use our credit cards.  No dice, again. I went inside and asked the clerk why.  She said that they are foreign credit cards and are not recognized at the pump.  But, I could go to pumps #1 and #2, pump the gas, then come inside and pay with the same credit card that wasn’t recognized at the other pumps.  (Or, I could pump $100 worth of gas and drive off without paying!).  So we pumped the gas into the two vans and headed to the airport.

I called Budget Rent-A-Car and asked how to get to the outside parking lot from which we picked up the cars last week (the vans are too tall to fit into the parking garage).  The person said there to follow the signs to Parking Lot #3 and look for “Pikka Parking” lot #3A.  It wasn’t easy, as expected. 

After exiting the airport altogether after my initial search loop, and going into the actual Parking Lot #3 and almost scraping the roof off, Joy asked for instructions and we made it to the right parking lot.

So that was done.  Now off to Helsinki where we would stay until Saturday before heading off to the IAAF World Youth Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine.

We debated whether to take a taxi from the airport (for 40-50 Euros), or the city bus (6.70 Euro each).  We opted for the latter.    It was about a half hour trip to the main city square, and our hotel was 30 yards from the stop.

We are already planning next year’s trip to Finland.  I only hope it will be as memorable as this one.


Monday, July 1 and Tuesday, July 2

Down to the serious business of training in Kuortane. 

Monday was dedicated to that.  That morning Barry took the athletes to the indoor track for some drills and warmups.  In the afternoon Kimmo had them doing weights and, after dinner, a few hours of floor hockey.  That night the boys took advantage of the sauna, alternating between that and the chilly waters of the lake.

Tuesday was similar, except that most of the afternoon was spent on the outdoor track with lots of throwing and the critiquing of same by Kimmo.

Joy, Paul and I took off for Vaasa, a large town (65,000+) on the western coast of Finland, about 80 miles from Kuortane.  It was raining for most of the morning and early afternoon.

We parked in an underground garage, directly below a square which hosts the daily farmers’ market.   We decided it was best to get an umbrella if we were to walk around the town, which we purchased in a nearby department store.



We wandered down to the water and came across a restaurant in a docked boat, called Faros.

We had fish soup and a salmon burger – fresh and spectacular.

By now the rain had stopped.   In our wanderings, we came across a sporting goods store.  It contained mostly shoes and clothing but, of course, offered javelins, shots and disci for sale!  (We noticed that most bicycles parked outside the stores in the town did not have locks; people simply parked their bikes outside the stores with little threat of theft!  Try that in the U.S.).

We headed back to the Farmers’ market and purchased some cherries (from Spain), strawberries (from Finland), and a kilo of smoked salmon.

We headed back from Vaasa and stopped in Seinajoki at a Target store.  Yes, an actual Target, but in Finnish the name is “Tavoite”.



We arrived back into Kuortane at about 6:00pm, in time for dinner.  The “kids” were finishing up, and were about to begin the final training session with Kari Ihalainen at 7:30pm.  That session was “Frisbee golf”, and lasted until 9:15pm.



With the sun still high in the sky, all 9 of the kids piled into a rowboat and rowed around the lake from about 9:30-10:30pm.

Barry, Paul, Kimmo, Kari and I gathered in Joy’s room where she put out a spread of strawberries, cherries, watermelon, bananas and smoked salmon to nosh on and celebrate our last night in Kuortane. 

Later, each of the athletes came to the room and we gave their “diplomas” from the javelin school in Pihtipudas.  The girls finished off the fruit and salmon and we wrapped it up at about midnight.  It was still quite light out.

Wednesday will be the last day in Kuortane.  There would be a light workout in the morning, lunch in the Kuortane cafeteria, then off for a night in Helsinki before traveling back to the U.S. on Thursday.


Sunday  June 30, 2013


What a great day!   I’ve been at this a long time and never quite experienced anything like what I was part of today.

We all checked out of the hotel by 9am and were at the facility by 9:30am.  All of the kids would perform today in either the “A” or “B” final.  And the President of Finland would be in attendance.

After two great dry days, the rains decided to grace our presence.  It began at about 7am and tapered off, fortunately, as the Womens’ “B” final got underway .  The girls were feeling the effects of the travel but still performed admirably:  Katelyn Gochenour 146-7, Kristen Clark 132-1 and Christine Streisel  134-9.

The Mens’ “B” final was next.  Trevor Danielson (189-11) and Sam Hardin (195-5) were suffering from back pain and, if they had not made the final, would have been advised to pass their final 3 throws.  Todd Ogden, who had gotten a personal best on Thursday, didn’t quite have the spark he did then, and could only manage 188-0, along with 2 fouls.  But they all did their best and that’s what counts.

By now, the crowd was starting to come in.   It was 1:00pm and there were about 1000 people there.  The dozen or so female finalists in the Women’s “A” final  were brought to the field in front of the main stands for introductions.   The field included Megan Glasmann, the only one of our group included in the “A” event.   Megan had the #2 mark in the U.S. high school ranks, having attained that while winning the U.S. Junior Champs last week, throwing a P.B. 166-7.

Megan, though tentative, was ready for the challenge.  Her personal best placed her at the bottom of the list for this group, but that did not let that phase her.   She started with a foul, then threw 158-3 and 155-11.  She made it to the finals.

Like in the prelims, she opened with a foul.  She followed that with 154-0.  Up for her final throw, she “sailed” one, and the mark was announced at 51.23m. I saw that and said to myself, “I think that’s her personal best!”  It was.  It translated to 168-1, improving her #2 yearly high mark, and moving to #9 on the all-time high school list. 

It has been an amazing 3 weeks for Megan.  She won the New Balance Nationals  on June 16 with a personal best of 159-1.  Six days later she won the USATF Junior Champs with another personal best of 166-7 (with 3 throws over 165-0).  And now, on one of the most prestigious platforms in the javelin world, the Pihtipudas Javelin Carnival, she improves to 168-1.

It’s time for the “A” Men’s Final.  The sun is now shining, the President of Finland is due in, and the crowd has swelled to 4,000!  And all to see the athletes throw the javelin and nothing else!

Kimmo had told me earlier, “Please make sure Katelyn Gochenour is by awards stand at 12:50”.  “Sure”, I say, but I’m not sure why.  So it’s now 12:50, and Katelyn is called to the awards stand. 

She had been named “Female Athlete of the Meet”.  This 15 year old from Logan, IA (a state where the javelin isn’t even contested), by virtue of her wins in the 15 year AND 17 year divisions. was accorded that honor!

Katelyn, calm and collected as always, graciously accepted the award.  It is a beautiful slate clock inscribed with “Female Athlete of the Pihtiupudas Javelin Carnival”.  She then proceeded to the area where about 60 throwers formed two lines separated by 5 feet.  They held their javelins high under which the President walked.

Barry Krammes, our “coach in residence” and national class athlete, is in the “A” final and seeking the “A” standard for the IAAF World Championships.  That’s 83.50m, about 7 meters better than his lifetime best.  We are rooting for him.

The Men’s “A” event is now underway.  There are television trucks behind the stadium.  The event is on national TV.  The President, with his entourage, is situated under two 10-foot tents, and  taking it all in.

Every attempt is met with rhythmic applause, and the president is as “into it” as anyone else. 

The crowd goes wild with every big throw.  This is the ultimate appreciation for those who throw the javelin.  Kids are running around trying to get autographs of their heroes.  It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

Barry did not quite get the standard, but performed well.  It was his best competition ever in Europe.

So now it’s over,  the crowd is leaving, the signage is taken down and the TV trucks depart.

But the President and his entourage are invited to a post meet dinner.  It was held in the school cafeteria.  The cafeteria itself is separated from an outer room by one of those accordion-style sliding doors.

Among others, the president was accompanied by two Finnish secret service agents.  We peeked in and saw the dozen or so dignitaries having the salad, scalloped potatoes, and whatever else was served to the athletes earlier in the day. 

One of the secret service agents  was guarding the area.  After about 5 minutes there, he leaned over to Barry Krammes and Paul Limmer and said, “Would you mind watching my post while I have dinner?”  Of course they agreed (even though they were not properly sworn in!).  I have a feeling this would not have happened had a U.S. President been involved!

We bid our “adieus” to everyone and headed to Kuortane.  It would be about a 2 ½ hour drive to the International Training Center there.   We stopped for gas about 20 minutes into the trip, but couldn’t figure how to use the pump.  So we headed another 5 miles to the ubiquitous “ABC” complex and hoped to figure it out.

Paul and I couldn’t get the pumps to work – they wouldn’t recognize our credit cards.  So I went inside to the cashier and explained the problem.  She said, “If your credit card doesn’t work, you pump first then come in and pay.”   Which we gladly did.

We continued on our journey.  There was literally nothing for almost two hours.  I don’t mean “no- restaurants-nothing”, I mean .. nothing;  trees, and nothing else. 

Though we swore not to, we were forced to stop at an ABC to eat.  There was nothing else.  Everyone ordered pizza (there was not much choice).  Barry and I each had a smoked reindeer pizza (honestly!).  It

We got to Kuortane at about 8:30pm and checked into our rooms.  The kids, who did not complain about the “basic” hotel we stayed in near Pihtipudas, suddenly appreciated how good the “digs” in Kuortane are.  It is a very modern hotel, each room having a kitchen, washer-dryer, flat screen TV and sauna!

After checking in, Kari Ihalainen, the Finnish national javelin coach who lives in Kuortane, said “Let’s play Frisbee golf!”  And so we did.

Soon after that we retired to our rooms, and rested in preparation for the intense training that Kimmo will lead for the next two days.


Finland  Saturday, June 29, 2013


After the great evening last night, Kimmo decided to take it relatively easy today.  Tomorrow is the final day and everyone will throw again.

Most “slept in”, and just about all just made it to breakfast before it closed at 10:00am.  We took off at noon and promptly had lunch. 

After lunch we went to the Keihas Museo (the javelin museum in Pihtipudas).  I suspect it’s the only one of its type in the world.  It is small, but informative.  Kimmo gave us a personal tour! Below was a souvenir shop and the kids partook of that.


We returned to the facility at 2:00pm in time to watch the wheelchair competition.  There were about ½ competitors.  The winning toss was about 105’.

The athletes did some workouts after that for about an hour or so.  Kimmo had reserved a room at a local restaurant where we would eat dinner.  It was buffet style, and quite extensive.

We then headed back to the facility for the dance.  The athletes stayed for about a half hour.   The band was not engaging and no one danced.

We got back to the hotel at about 9pm, the earliest ever.  It was time to relax as everyone competes tomorrow. 

Here is the schedule:

10:30am Girls “B” Kristen, Katelyn and Christine
11:30am Boys “B” Trevor, Todd
1:00pm  Girls “A” Megan
2:30pm  Boys “A” Barry

Goals for tomorrow: Kristen 140+, Katelyn and Christine 150+
   Trevor 200+, Todd 215+ (US high school leader is 214).
   Megan 170+
   Barry – the IAAF World Championships “A” Standard – 83.50


Finland – Day 2 – June 28, 2013

With the competition over, it is now time for training, the essence of the camp.

We drove the kids and Barry the 15 miles to Pihtipudas and dropped them off at about 9:00am.  Today would include an introductory session in the gym, various drills in the morning, lunch, then throws in the afternoon.

So Joy, Paul and I had a day to kill.  We looked at the map and saw a town about 50 miles away with a bigger font than the others within a 100 miles radius.  So we figured that would be a good destination for lunch.  It is called Suolahti and, like most towns in this region of Finland, is on a lake.

Off we went, driving through some tiny and scenic towns.  We arrived in Suolahti and drove up the “main drag”.  There seemed to be the usual pizza and kebab joints.   So we traveled to the end of the main road which ended at a lake and came across the town’s restored train station.  Built in 1892, it was refurbished recently and converted to a restaurant called Restaurant Gallant.

I think we hit the jackpot.  We were the only ones in the restaurant and the chef was not present.  So the waiter, who spoke spotty English, said he would cook for us.   We asked for a menu.  He said there was none.  Maybe we’ll get lucky.

The courses began:  a glass of fresh cranberry juice, an appetizer of small shrimp, ginger and salmon beautifully presented, an intermezzo of homemade lime sorbet, a main course of a root vegetable compote with barbecued pork (the most tender I’ve ever had – no knife required), then a dessert dish of strawberry ice cream, one blackberry, two strawberries and a small wafer, also beautifully presented.  It was truly memorable and, by far, the best meal we’ve ever had in Finland.

We were back on the road by 5:00pm and intended to pick up the kids at about 8:00pm.  While driving back, Kimmo called and said, “please come by 6:00 so we can plan evening”.  We could not quite figure out what all that meant.  So we quickly stopped at the hotel on the way, and then off to Pihtipudas.

We got there at about 7:00pm.  Kimmo told us the plan:  Joy and Paul would take the kids back to the hotel so they could change and get their bathing suits.  I would go with Kimmo to the grocery store and get food for the kids’ dinner.  We would bring them to Kimmo’s summer house about 5 miles from Pihtipudas where they would eat dinner, swim and use the sauna.  Then Barry, Joy, Paul and I would go with Kimmo and his wife Sari, to …….. somewhere (we couldn’t quite figure out where).

So Joy and Paul took Barry and the kids back to Viitasaari to change.  Kimmo, Sari and I went to the
“K Supermarket”.  We loaded up on sausages, bread, grapes, bananas and drinks.  We brought them to his summer home where the kids would eventually have dinner.

What a place!  It’s on a lake, with a large a sauna about 50 meters from the house, immediately on the lake.  Kimmo loaded up the sauna with wood and began the fire.  Todd, Sam and others went into the lake with buckets to fill with water to be used to create the steam in the sauna.  We left them with Kimmo’s son Jami who would supervise the activities for the kids while we adults would go … somewhere.

We followed Kimmo for about 5 miles on a paved road and then on a winding dirt road for about a mile.  We ended up at sort of a lodge, also on a magnificent lake.  We had been invited to a reception put on by the town of Pihtipudas.  There were about 80 people there, and included meet officials, town officials and many athletes.

They welcomed everyone in Finnish and in English, presented the cook (a woman in her mid-forties), and invited us to partake (ladies first).   There was a great potato casserole with carrots and chicken, a beautiful salad with various colored peppers, pickled herring, black currant jam and some pretty good bread. 

Additionally there was plenty of Karhu Finnish beer (Karhu means bear), and a giant metal milk bucket with some kind of booze mixture.  It appeared to be one part orange jello and 100 parts vodka.  It was served with a ladle.   I tasted it and could only bear a small sip.  Others loaded up their cups with it.

At the end (or, at least our “end”;  we suspect that many of the Finns stayed until the wee morning hours), they served what appeared to be homemade vanilla ice cream and homemade apple cake.  That capped a great evening.

We left at 11:00pm to go pick up the kids.  They were sitting around a fire when we got there at 11:30pm.  They had roasted the sausages over the fire.  Prior to that , they had made full use of the sauna, and went back and forth between the sauna and the lake.

We sat around the fire with them and really didn’t want to leave.  The sun was just setting at 11:30pm.  We stay until 12:15am and reluctantly left.  It was still light when we got back to the hotel at 12:45am.  Since we didn’t have to back to the camp until noon, we told the kid’s to “sleep in”.




Day 1- Thursday, June 27, 2013

We all had a good night’s sleep after a “marathon” two days of travel.

We introduced the kids to a typical European breakfast at the hotel – cereal, cold cuts, cheese, bread, coffee, juice, milk, oatmeal, granola tomatos, cucumbers, etc. ; no bacon, eggs, omelets (except for hard boiled eggs).

We were off to Pihtipudas for the competition by about 11:30am.  Katelyn Gochenour was in the first event for us at 2:10pm.  The various age groups (9 through 13) competed from 10:00am until then.

We registered and got our credentials.  While we were registering, two 8 year old boys came up to Kimmo and asked for his autograph.  It would be sort of like a U.S. kid asking Michael Jordan for an autograph;  that’s how Finnish javelin throwers are recognized in their country.  The boys got their wish and ran off giddily.

While we were sitting in the registration area, a woman came in with a young man.  It was her son, and turned out to be Sam Hardin from Auburn, AL, who was second in the javelin at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor at about 206.  She is Finnish and they visit her home country annually in the summer.  She brought him to Pihtipudas from her home town in Tempere, about a 2 hour drive away.

We started speaking to her and she asked if there was anywhere nearby her son could stay.  Since we had an extra 2 beds in the boys’ room, we offered for him to stay with us.  It all worked out, and Sam bonded with the boys.  (She and her husband were both basketball players at Auburn U which is where they met).

Kimmo showed us around the complex.  We toured the gym where some of the drills would be held in subsequent days.  On the wall decorating the gym were three large silhouettes:  a cross country skier, a volleyball player, and a javelin thrower.  We were in the right place!  And just outside the track is a life size statue of a javelin competitor.  We believe the model was Jorma Kinnunen, Kimmo’s father and 1968 Olympic champion.

We ate lunch in the cafeteria (the competition is held on the grounds of a school).  It consisted of a sort of beef barley soup, bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles – satisfying and filling.  Then we all headed out to the track to watch the competition.  We had athletes throwing at 2:10pm, 4:10pm, 5:10pm, 6:20pm and 7:20pm.

At 2:00pm, there was not a cloud in the sky and the temperatures were in the high 80’s.  It was almost impossible to find shade.

Katelyn threw first, competing in the 15 year division,  and had a very good day with the 400 gram javelin (high school girls throw the 600 gram javelin).  She was a bit “tight” at first, as would be expected, especially after the overseas flight and 6 hour van ride (all in about a 24 hour period).  She opened with 157-5, then began to relax, and threw 159-0, 169-4, 164-0, 163-5 and 164-1.  She won the competition.  In doing so, she earned the victory cup and a shampoo gift set.

After a bit of a rest, Kimmo wanted Katelyn to join Kristen Clark for the 17 year old completion in which they throw the 500 gram javelin.  Both did well.  Katelyn threw F, 128-6, 124-10, 153-3, 144-11 and 147-7, for another win.  Kristen had her best mark on her first throw, 138-0.  She followed that with 125-1, 125-7, F, 136-2 and 129-10.  She finished 4th.  This time Katelyn earned the winner’s cup, as well as a small tent.  (Don’t laugh; shampoo and tents are very useful in Finland!).

By now clouds had rolled in and the heavens opened.  Torrential rains ensued for the next few hours, causing several rain delays.  It was notable that there were no delays during the lightning and thunder.  The officials sort of grinned when they saw a lightning bolt.

Now it was Trevor Danielson’s turn with the boys 17 year group.  Trevor did well, albeit with a slightly sore back.  His series, with the 700 gram javelin, was 168-5, 183-9, 141-8, 190-1, F, 186-10.

Megan Glasmann and Christine Streisel were next, competing in the Girls 19 year old division.  Megan was the New Balance Nationals Outdoor Champion and recent USATF Junior champion.  She set personal bests in those meets in two successive weeks.  Christine defended her Penn Relays championship this year.  Both are at the high end of U.S. high school female javelin thowers.

The competition was a bit stiffer, with Megan finishing 4th and Christine 1 or 2 places behind her.  Megan’s series was 148-0, 149-1, 142-6, 150-2, F, 157-2.  Christine threw 148-0, 146-1, 141-8, 140-11, 144-1, 138-0.

(If you’ve been to a track meet in the states, you might  occasionally run into a vendor selling shoes from the trunk of a van.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like in Finland where they do the same thing, not with shoes, but with javelins!)

The competition timetable was backed  up due to the rain delays so Todd Ogden didn’t get to throw until after 8pm, about an hour after the scheduled time.  Todd capped off a great day with a PR.  The competition was terrific, with several 230+ throwers.    I missed his first 2 throws, but his final 4 were: 202-11, 193-5, 200-2 and 211-11.  The big one came on his final throw, the sign of a true champion. 

During the completion, one of the officials had a blowtorch and was drying off the grip of the javelins for the competitors.  One doesn’t usually see fire in a competition.  Todd mentioned, as well,  that most of Finnish athletes used pine tar for better grips.  PHOTO`

By now, it’s about 10pm and we’re all starving, although many did eat the dinner in the cafeteria much earlier.  I did not, but heard the fare was something like macaroni and cheese.

Of course it’s perfectly light out.  We drive to downtown Pihtipudas to see if its lone restaurant is still open.  No luck.  So off we go to our fail-safe restaurant, the “ABC”.  We have the usual burgers and pizza.  (One has to understand that there are really no restaurants, as we know them, within 100 miles of Pihtipudas.  It is really wilderness).  Paul ordered a “Caesar pizza”.  It was a Caesar Salad dumped on top of a cheese pizza, with crutons scattered about.   It would be first and only time Paul would order that dish.

We got back to the hotel at about midnight.  Keep in mind that it’s still light out.   The kids went to bed.  I stayed up with Barry Krammes until about 1:00am.  And, though the sun had set, there was still light; it wasn’t really like it was dark.   It was a good day; tomorrow begins the training and classes.

Day 0 – Getting There

We started planning this trip the day after last year’s training in Kuortane, the IAAF-certified national training center. This year would include the yearly Finnish javelin carnival in Pihtipudas and, later, training in Kuortane . The air tickets were purchased in January and all of the details of the travel were finalized between then and now.

The team consists of Morgan Tanisijevich (Atlanta, GA), Josh Richter (Spokane, WA), Trevor Danielson (Newburg, OR), Todd Ogden (Kalispell, MT), Christine Streisel (Tamaqua, PA), Megan Glasmann (Park City, UT), Kristen Clark (Ruston, LA) and Katelyn Gochenour (Logan, IA). They are really a great group, and fun to be around. The coaches/chaperones are Joy Kamani, Paul Limmer, Barry Krammes and me.

Barry Krammes is still, even at age 31, a national class javelin thrower. In fact, he finished 4th at the USATF championships last week. He has the possibility of getting the “A” standard, about 5 meters beyond his personal best. He intends on getting that Sunday in the competition in Pihtipudas.

So Barry takes off from Des Moines on Monday after the meet and connects in Chicago for his flight back to Allentown, PA. But the flight is cancelled with no more flights out that day to his destination. So he rented a car a drove all night, arriving in Allentown, PA at 9:30am. He wouldn’t have had to do it but he was leaving from JFK for Finland the same day! So crisis #1 solved.

We had folks leaving from 4 different departure airports on Tuesday. Trevor, Josh, Megan and Todd were leaving from Portland, OR, Kristen and Morgan were leaving from Atlanta, and Paul, Barry, Katelyn and Christine were leaving from JFK (New York). All would meet in Amsterdam, then take the same flight from Amsterdam to Helsinki. Joy and I left from Charlotte for Munich, then connected to a flight to Helsinki, arriving about ½ hour after the group who had come in from Amsterdam.

On paper it looked good. I was mostly concerned about Todd’s flight from Kalispell, MT as he only had a 45 connection in Salt Lake City, where he would meet up with Megan and both would continue on to Portland. That worked well as his flight to SLC was early and the departure was late. So they got to Portland in plenty of time for the 1:30 flight to Amsterdam. Josh was coming in from Spokane and Trevor was local to Portland. We sent Ryan Canning, of our staff, to meet up with that group and organize the departures. Off they went to Amersdam.

Kristen had traveled from Monroe, LA to Atlanta, where she met up with Morgan. The arrived at 5:30am in Amsterdam. They “hung out” in the airport until the rest of the group got there. Barry and Christine came from Pennsylvania by car and arrived on time, meeting Paul at JFK. Our main concern was with Katelyn, who was going from Omaha to Minneapolis then to JFK. She’s the youngest of the group at age 15 and had the most challenging connections. She got off OK and landed in Minneapolis. I was notified by the airline that she would be flying directly to Amsterdam from Minneapolis. “What???”, I thought. I called Delta and, after being on hold for ½ hour, the person said, “We wanted to make it convenient for her as she might miss her connection to New York”. I said, “there is no delay!” He said, “Oh, you’re right!”. Meanwhile, Katelyn called her mother and asked what she should do. The answer was to continue on to New York, which she did. Crisis #2 solved.

When I checked in at Raleigh-Durham, I was told that they could only give me a ticket to Charlotte, and I could get the Lufthansa ticket there. After a call to the USAirways management, we managed to get my ticket from Charlotte to Munich. And, even though there was a separate ticket from Munich to Helsinki, normally I could get my bag checked through to Helsinki. But it was not possible this time around. That means that I would have to get my luggage in Munich and then recheck it to Finnair. So that’s what I had to do.

Joy, somehow, managed to get her luggage checked all the way through to Helsinki with similar connections. I was not too happy about that. We got to Munich. I left the security area to get my bag and Joy continued on to the Helsinki gate. I was a bit nervous as I had 2 hours in between flights but knew that anything could happen. It all worked well and I was relieved. I met Joy at the gate but she didn’t have her boarding pass yet. When she went to get it , the computer was “down.”  The agent wrote, on a blank ticket, “MUC-HEL”. That was her official ticket, and we boarded the airplane. So we made it to Helsinki and Paul, Barry and the kids were waiting for us.

We exited security and no one checked our luggage nor passports. On to the rental car agency. I had reserved two 9-passenger names in my name. I asked for the cars and the agent said, “We have only one car. We thought that, since it was the same name for the two cars, that it was a duplicate reservation”. I said that was not the case. The agent went next door to Avis right away and got another 9-passenger van for us. We loaded up the vans and were about to take off. Paul LImmer was driving one and I was driving the other. They were both manual shift cars. We both shifted into reverse (or so we thought) and we moved forward instead of backward. The kids, of course, were laughing. We struggled for 5 minutes and finally observed a small ring around the shift that has to be pulled up in order to move in reverse. We finally got it.

It’s now about 2:30pm local time, or 7:30am in New York. Most of us had been up for almost a full day. And we had a 5 hour drive ahead of us. We drove for about an hour and stopped for lunch. It was an “ABC” complex, one of many on the Finnish highways. They are basically truck stops with passable restaurants. By now, the kids are asleep and Paul and I are struggling to stay awake. Paul was fine, but I asked Joy to take over and she drove for about half the trip.

It was now about 7:00pm, and Kimmo Kinnunen, our host and 1991 World Champion, (shown at left with Paul Limmer)  asked me to call him once we got past the town of Jyviskala, about 100 miles south of Viitasaari where we were staying. I did so and he said that he would like to invite us to his house before we went to the hotel. I really wanted to get the kids (and us) to bed but, of course, we could not turn down the invitation. So he met us on the highway about an hour later and guided us to his house.

What a magnificent place! It’s on a lake, with a dock, and surrounded by the forest, the essence of tranquility. He said, “kids must take swim”. They reluctantly rummaged through their luggage in the trunks of the vans and grabbed their swimming suits. Katelyn stuck her toe in the water and said, “it’s too cold”. We egged them on, and finally Megan took a running jump off the pier and plunged in. The other 3 girls followed, then the 4 boys.

Suddenly, the water wasn’t too cold. We had a hard time getting them out. They all went back to the house and changed (girls first). Kimmo and his family entertained us for a while. Just before we left, each of the kids brought their presents of coffee to Kimmo (Finns are the largest, per capita, coffee drinkers in the world). It is a much appreciated gift.


The kids still hadn’t eaten dinner and it was now about 10:00pm. Kimmo led us to another “ABC” complex were dined on pizza and hamburgers. Finally, at 11:30pm, we headed out and arrived at the motel 15 minutes later. Keep in mind that the sun set at 11:30 and it’s still light out.

Wikki Manor can best be described as “quaint”. It is a typical European motel, spartan by American standards. The girls and boys each had their own rooms; the girls with 4 beds (one of which is a bunk), and the boys with 6 beds, even though they only need 4 (actually, they would use one more bed, but that’s for tomorrow’s blog). The rooms are very small with sort of a very small mattress on a wooden platform. It is surprisingly comfortable, however. Of course there is only liquid soap, no shampoo, no ironing board or iron, and certainly none of the amenities one would find in an American hotel. Most of the rooms are in a converted barn, with each room being a former stable. We finally got to bed at 12:30am. It’s still light out. We all woke up between 6:30am and 9:00am on Thursday. All had a good night’s sleep. We were all ready for the competition on Thursday.

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