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Finland's Winter Olympics team returns home to presidential welcome

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and many others were on hand at the Helsinki Airport Monday to welcome home the last of Finland's 2018 Winter Olympics athletes.

Sauli Niinistön vauvan torkkupeitto
President Niinistö holds up an Olympic gift for his son. Image: Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva

Finland's President Sauli Niinistö was one of a sizable delegation that turned out at the Helsinki Airport Monday afternoon to welcome the last of the 2018 Winter Olympians back home.

A group of kindergarteners from the Ilola day care centre lined the athlete's way to the coffee-and-cake reception. Niinistö gave a speech there in which he thanked each of the medal-winning athletes separately.

"A big welcome back home to the entire team," the president said. "We've had some great moments here following your accomplishments, during both your wins and losses. They have all touched us."

Presidential speech

He began with Finland's only gold-medal winner in the games: skier Iivo Niskanen.

"Listen here, Iivo, all of us at home on our sofas were on pins and needles when it looked as if your competitors would catch up with you. I had it easier because I've got more experience with these things. You see, 58 years ago, I had my ear to the radio when Kalevi Hämäläinen also managed to pull it off," Niinistö continued.

Skier Krista Pärmäkoski singlehandedly brought home three of Finland's six Olympic medals: one silver and two bronze.

"When I was in the army, I learned the term 'half-platoon', but no one told me that a half-platoon could be just one person," the president said.

"When Stadlober set off in the wrong direction, I would have just followed her like Pavlov's dog. But you kept your wits about you and figured out what had happened," he said.

The value of teamwork

President Niinistö also had some words for slopestyle bronze medallist Enni Rukajärvi and the bronze medal-winning women's hockey team.

"Enni: I see you have made it a habit not to return home from the Olympics without a medal. It is a great habit to have, and I hope it continues."

"To the women's hockey team: You showed the world what can happen when you play as a team, supporting each other. It was a beautiful sight to see how you worked together," he said.

Niinistö finished his address by extolling the significance of sports.

"I happened to be at the Oittaa ski centre in Espoo yesterday, and there were thousands of people there, including many families with children. I overheard many people talking about Iivo and Krista as they skied the trails. That's what kind of influence you have on us all."

A blanket for the boy

After the speech was over, it was the athletes' turn to speak to the President.

Enni Rukajärvi, Krista Pärmäkoski, Aino-Kaisa Saarinen, sports psychologist Hannaleena Ronkainen and head coach Antti Koskinen joined together to present Niinistö with a gift: a small blanket for his new son, knit by the team members staying in the Olympic village during the games.

"Thank you, this is very beautiful. Hopefully, the little fellow that it will be keeping warm is a budding athlete," Niinistö said.

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