Helsinki - Sporty daughter of the Baltic

Helsinki Swimming Stadium

The Swimming Stadium is open every day during the summer months. / KOPTERCAMERA OY / CITY OF HELSINKI

Helsinki offers a lot to see and do for a sport-minded visitor. Both the active athletic and the spectator sportsman can find various attractions. 

THE OLYMPIC STADIUM in Helsinki was completed in 1938, as Finland was meant to host the 1940 Olympic Games.

The outbreak of the Second World War led to the cancellation of the Games, but the building works were eventually completed in time for Helsinki to host the Olympics in 1952

Venues for record-breaking 

A number of other sports facilities were completed with the Olympics in mind in the 1930s, including the Rowing Stadium and the Velodrome.

With their elegantly straightforward construction and white exteriors, these facilities exemplify the Zeitgeist of the 1930s, with its mass events and cult of the body. 

Behind the Olympic Stadium is the open-air Swimming Stadium, which was also used in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. The stadium is designed in the Functionalist style and has been listed as a significant example of modern architecture. It is open to the public from early May to late September. 

Just a five-minute walk from the stadium is the Eläintarha (Zoological Gardens) athletics track, now used mainly for training and warm-up purposes. Here, in June 1924, a small piece of running history was made, when Paavo Nurmi, the greatest Olympian of the time, calmly broke the world records for the 1500 metres and the 5000 metres – in the space of the same hour. He set a total of 29 world records in his career.

Nearby, too, are Helsinki’s old Ice Hall (still in regular use) and the larger Hartwall Areena, both of them ice hockey arenas. 

Icemen and other stars

Although ice hockey is Finland’s most popular spectator sport, the country’s internationally best known sporting superstars are nevertheless more likely to be found on four wheels or skis than on ice.

If Finnish hockey players reach hero status, then they are much more likely to be playing in the NHL in North America.

Among the best-known Finnish ice hockey players are Saku Koivu and Teemu Selänne, both recently retired.

Rally drivers like Valtteri Bottas and the former World Champions Kimi ‘Iceman’ Räikkönen and Mika Häkkinen.

Finland also boasts some snowboarding stars including World Championship winners and medalists Antti Autti, and Markku Koski, and Olympic silver medalists Enni Rukajärvi and Peetu Piiroinen.

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