It has been predicted that there's going to be Northern Lights in Levi soon. So take a look skywards! Prediction provided by Sunsää.

Northern Lights in the sky

It has been predicted that there's going to be Northern Lights in Levi soon. So take a look skywards!
Prediction provided by Sunsää.

Published: 28.10.2014

When Tanja Poutiainen announced an end to her successful racing career in spring 2014, it was clear that this Finnish alpine skiing heroine would be no couch potato. I was keen to hear more about her plans for the future and thoughts on the past. We ended up talking about football.

A time for everything

Tanja has had no need to re-evaluate her decision to give up racing. Life without a training programme has felt good and, overall, it was the perfect time to step aside and do something else. Known as an advocate of positive thinking, Tanja looks back on her career without feeling the need to settle scores.

– I no longer feel the need to push my limits as an athlete on a daily basis. My career came to so much more than I ever imagined as a little girl, and I can only be highly satisfied with it. Sure, there were some things I didn’t achieve, but that’s life.

Plan B

Retirement at an age when most of us only begin building a career brings huge changes to the life of a professional athlete. People who have given their all to their sport, perhaps since childhood, must suddenly fill their days with something else.

– This is something that both the athlete and her nearest and dearest need to consider. I’m sure that at times during this first year I, too, will have moments when I wonder how exactly I’m supposed to live a ‘normal’ life, Tanja comments with a laugh.

Not that Tanja will be unprepared. She began planning her second career during her first one and is studying at the University of Lapland. Other plans have also emerged since she made her immense decision. For example, she has continued her cooperation with Ski Sport Finland, the national alpine skiing organisation. Discussions with affiliates are also ongoing.

– Every day in the future will be a combination of activities of many kinds. That’s a key issue; you need to be proactive and draw up plans for the future.

It gave and taught me so much

When asked what she will miss most from her time as a professional athlete, Tanja focuses on emotions.

– I’m sure I’ll miss the rollercoaster ride through the full spectrum of feelings. There’s so much emotion in sport: the wonderful feeling of development after a good workout, for example. Not to mention the moments when, together with your team after the long hours of work put in, you race successfully and achieve an excellent performance. That’s something that really motivates an athlete.

It has taken determination and ambition to build a career at the top of the world of alpine skiing and, as Tanja says, to challenge yourself and put your body on the line. This has taught her not only how to deal with pressure, but also how to stay focused.

–Professional athletes are a great choice when some extra focus and dedication is needed.

Retired, perhaps, but not old

Maximum interval and maximum strength – these are exercises that Tanja says she will not miss. But every now and then the racer in her rises to the surface – in the Levi24 cycling event, for example, in which Tanja has often had her own racing team.

– There’s no point in denying it. When I put myself on the line and race for my team, I don’t hold anything back but give the full 100 %. When my heart rate is near maximum again and I’m close to exhaustion, I feel the pain. But once a racer, always a racer!

Age-wise, Tanja could still be a professional athlete. And age has never been an issue for her, even when she raced against Mikaela Shiffrin, who is 15 years younger. The world of professional sport has changed and so have attitudes towards athletes. Age is no longer a burden – for instance Teemu Selänne had one of his best pro hockey seasons in his forties.

– Mentally, you just grow stronger over time. And although changes occur in your recovery from exercise, you also learn to work out in a way that suits your body.

The girl next door

–It is almost my second backyard, Tanja says when I ask her to tell me about her relationship with Levi. As a child she often visited the nearby fells of Rovaniemi, her hometown, at the weekends. By then, she had already become very familiar with Levi.

The relationship between Tanja and Levi, and Levi’s sponsorship, has been long-lasting and has meant a great deal to both. For Levi, Tanja has been the most positive spokesperson imaginable. She is also well known in the resort, where a café and sports shop are named after her. World Cup Levi, which was Tanja’s home race, has a special place in her affections.

– Levi always gives you such a warm welcome and is home to so many wonderful personalities. Every time I go there I feel like I’m returning home. In the future, Tanja may return to Levi even more often than before. She has a cottage there and no longer spends 200 days a year overseas.

– In the future, I hope to have more time to spend at my cottage, enjoying the full range of sports activities that the resort has to offer. I would love to play much more golf than before!

The trailblazers

World Cup Levi’s history is closely connected to the careers of Finnish alpine skiing pioneers, such as Tanja, Kalle Palander, Sami Uotila and Henna Raita. Many happy, successful memories are associated with the event. Crowning it all is that magical moment one February in 2004.

– It was the very first World Cup event to be held in Finland and I happened to achieve my first World Cup win. It was like a fairytale! I still remember the cheers of the crowd and the finish, as if it all happened yesterday.

Tanja, her teammates and World Cup Levi have been true trailblazers in Finnish alpine skiing. In the late nineties, Finland’s know-how and resources in alpine skiing were far from what they are now. In addition, as is still the case, the country ‘lacked’ mountains. But passion and willpower carried the pioneers a long way.

– As for mountains, we may not have the best conditions for alpine skiing, but we often have the best attitude in the world and that counts for a great deal.

– Every year it felt as though we were making Finnish alpine skiing history, which gave us a tremendous boost. The feeling was, ”Hey, we’re making big changes, personally.” In that sense, it was great to be a trailblazer.

There’s always time for football

Among other things, Tanja has been a spokesperson for off-season practice. Her training programme has always been versatile, with room for playing football in RoPS ladies (a local club in Rovaniemi). Not everybody thought this was a good idea, but Tanja begs to differ.

– I’m pro versatility when it comes to training and am prepared to say so. I have two reasons for this. Firstly, I’ve always loved playing football and it’s been important for me to have something like that in my training programme. Then there’s the mental aspect. When I knew I would get to play football every week, it felt easier to do all the other exercises too. Not all practices are meant to feel good, of course, but you still need to do them. However, I believe that when you love something and your heart is in it, you improve.

– Also, including different types of exercise in your training programme protects you from injuries. When your body isn’t unilaterally strained and is in good balance, you’re less vulnerable to repetitive strain and other injuries.

The passion remains

One evening after Tanja had announced her retirement, a small but significant event took place in a Finnish Public Broadcasting Company studio. Two of Finland’s top athletes, Tanja and one of her favourite football players, Jari Litmanen, met. Both have devoted most of their lives to a sport that hasn’t been particularly traditional in Finland.

Apart from football, what these two athletes have in common is passion. Both of them live and breathe their sport.

– The passion doesn’t vanish after your career, it just takes a different form. It was interesting to note that soon after my decision I began to see things from a new perspective. When I was racing, I had neither the time nor energy to consider the big picture in Finnish alpine skiing and its future. I now feel that I still have a great deal to give this sport; I want it to have a future in Finland.

Girls involved in alpine skiing form a group that is sure to grab Tanja’s attention. Much needs to be done to bring on the next generation of Finnish alpine heroines. Finland has few alpine skiers and genuine talent needs to be discovered in time. But when the attitude is right, any challenges and problems can be overcome.

If you ask me, Tanja knows a few things that may prove useful in this project. After all, she is, one of the people who made it all possible in the first place.