Women's World Boxing Championships: Olympic medallist Mira Potkonen emerges as flag-bearer of conventional sports in Finland
Having won Finland’s only medal at Rio Olympics, boxer Mira Potkonen has become a flag-bearer for conventional sports in a country where events like Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships and Wife Carrying World Championships are now the biggest rage.
Mira Potkonen is having trouble keeping a straight face. She tries, but after struggling through her answer, fails and breaks into a chuckle.
"People in Finland have a crazy mentality," she blurts out as she attempts to answer why her countrymen are obsessed with 'sports' which range from slightly unconventional to the purely unhinged (if you can even term Finland's annual 'Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships' that!)
"Sports like Wife Carrying World Championships and Swamp Soccer World Championships are an obsession back in our country because people there like to do fun things amidst nature. People in my country love to go to the forests, or to swamps or out in nature and do something competitive. Something that is sporting, but without the uber-competitive streak which a sport like boxing will have," says Potkonen.
Other unconventional activities in the country known for having foreboding winters (but also 24 hours of sunshine for a couple of months) that are slowly making their transition into the mainstream in the Nordic country are the Kick-sledding World Championships, the Air Guitar World Championships, the Berry Picking World Championships and organised competitions which involve activities ranging from throwing things like milking stools and rubber boots to lazing on the Kerava River drinking beer. For the true adrenaline seekers, there are also the Mosquito Squashing Championship and the competition judging 'athletes' for their ability to sit on an ants nest the longest.
In between this, the Finns also have their old-school sporting obsessions: ice hockey and Formula One, with the country churning out racers of the calibre of Keke Rosberg (father of Nico Rosberg), Heikki Kovalainen, Mika Hakkinen, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas.
All of these factors have led to the lustre of Olympic medals somewhat dimming in Finland. A country which racked up 148 medals between the Stockholm 1912 to the Los Angeles 1932 Summer Games returned with one medal from Rio 2016: the bronze Potkonen won in the women's lightweight weight class (60kg).
The medal whilst propelling her to overnight celebrity status in her country, also inadvertently made Potkonen, a mother of two, the flag-bearer of boxing, nay summer Olympic sports, in Finland.
Potkonen, who is in New Delhi for the AIBA Women's World Boxing Championships, which start from Thursday, says: "Boxing is a relatively small sport in Finland despite its old tradition in our country. Unfortunately, there isn't that much media coverage for it. So it is not that followed widely. Boxing is definitely not as popular as ice hockey. Winter sports are generally more popular in Finland.
"But I believe that girls are now finding their way into the boxing gym. The autumn after my Rio Olympics gold, we had a lot of junior boxers emerging back home.
"The support from the National Olympic Committee and the ministry has also become better after the Rio Olympics. I've started getting funding from them also so that I can live and support my family as well. We have received better opportunities for training. The national media in Finland has written a lot of articles about me, TV coverage too has been better."
Ask her the reason behind Finland's slipping standards at the Olympics, and she reasons: "It's difficult to say what the reason in general is. In my country, people concentrate more on education, for example. But, unfortunately, we don't have that good a system which can combine sports with studies in school.
"In Finland, funding from the government is not as big as in other major sports countries. We're a small country, just five million people or so.
"It could also be because life in Finland is quite easy. So we don't get heroic stories that you see in other countries where someone comes from a very poor background and for them sport is the only way to create a better life.
Potkonen, who originally took up the sport to lose weight gained after her second pregnancy, herself worked at a café back home during her initial days.
"I use to work in a cafe named Nostalgia. I enjoyed working there. But it was also really hard as I was working the whole day at the café and then going for boxing training. This wasn't an ideal choice as an athlete. Later I started working at the café part-time. But even that was really difficult. So it's great to be a full-time athlete now," she says before adding: "Being a mother of two children has never affected my boxing career. I kept balance in my life. Yes, sometimes there were limitations on my time, but when I am with my family I have fun with them. And when I'm boxing, I completely focus on boxing and nothing else."
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