Qualifying for the Finnish javelin team is difficult at the best of times, but the contest for Olympic team berths this week became a lot more competitive for all but two of the country’s top throwers.
The Finnish Olympic Committee granted world bronze medallist Tero Pitkamaki and European champion Antti Ruuskanen early selection for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
While it leaves just one spot left on the team for male javelin throwers, it also means that the nation’s best hopes of an athletics gold medal in Rio can compete throughout next summer without the pressure of having to compete for a spot on the team.
“It’s a good thing,” Pitkamaki told the Finnish Athletics Federation. “It means I can prepare for the main event of the season as I see fit.”
Ruuskanen echoed those sentiments. “It’s a great feeling to be selected at this stage,” he said. “The Rio Olympics is the most important competition for me next year. The desire to succeed is strong.”
Pitkamaki produced a season’s best of 89.09m earlier this year, his best throw since winning the world title in 2007. In a high-quality year for the event, that mark put him fourth on the world list, but he made it on to the podium at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing with a throw of 87.64m.
It was his seventh medal from his 13 consecutive major championship appearances; an impressive statistic, given how difficult it is to make the Finnish team in the javelin.
Ruuskanen, meanwhile, threw a lifetime best of 88.98m this year and went on to finish fifth in Beijing, just 52 centimetres shy of a medal.
Both athletes would have needed to produce a throw of a lifetime to beat Julius Yego in Beijing. The Kenyan won with an African record of 92.72m, the farthest throw in the world for 14 years.
It was one of three throws beyond the 90-metre line in 2015. Yego broached that barrier earlier in the season in Birmingham, while Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott threw 90.16m to win at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne. Behind them, five other men threw beyond 88 metres in 2015.
But Pitkamaki and Ruuskanen are not intimidated by such big throws.
“It was a tough year, but I doubt that next year will be as hard,” said Pitkamaki. “Quite often results in this event can drop a bit in an Olympic year. My guess is that the results may take a dip, but of course they may also improve.”
Despite the country’s strength in the event, Finland’s last Olympic gold medal in the javelin was back in 1988, courtesy of Tapio Korjus.
Both athletes also intend on competing at the European Championships in Amsterdam next year, giving them the opportunity to become the first men to win European and Olympic titles in the same season. But Rio, they insist, is their primary focus as they look to put Finland back on top of the Olympic podium.
“It’s a target,” said Pitkamaki, “but the Olympics are the main goal.”
Jon Mulkeen and Yleisurheilu for the IAAF