A new doctoral dissertation reveals just how ingrained and innocent athlete-worship is in this culture. Until the doping scandal of the Finnish ski team in Lahti two years ago, Finns revered their sports heroes with the same devotion as they did in the 1930's.
Researcher Mervi Tervo of the University of Oulu has delved into the psyche behind Finland's enthusiasm for sports. She was truly surprised at how long the country has pinned its national self-respect on the success and dignity of its athletes. And the idolatry is not just reserved for the superstar sports: Finland is a country that creates heroes out of hockey players and shot-putters alike.
According to Tervo's research, Finland lagged far behind most countries in recognizing the corrupting influence of money and drugs on sports. Until the Lahti scandal two years ago shattered a kind of innocence, Finns were convinced of their athletes' altruistic devotion to their profession.
Lahti Shattered Illusions
In fact, says Tervo, the adoration of the Finnish athlete became a kind of philosophy that resonated with the Finnish culture. The philosophy held that any adversity was surmountable through unyielding persistence, raw grit, and disciplined self-control.
And so athletes even became a national rallying point during domestic strife. For example, during the Winter War, Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi - possibly the best long-distance runner of all time - became a symbol of Finnish gumption.
Tervo says nowhere is the devotion more apparent than in public reaction after the Lahti doping scandal broke open. People felt truly and personally betrayed, she says. The final death toll to the hero worship was the recent news that Nordic skier Kaisa Varis tested positive for doping during the skiing championships this year.
Tervo believes that Finland has finally lost its blind adoration. She added that not even the wholesome success of Formula One driver Kimi Räikkönen or skier Kalle Palander can restore it.