January 22, 2018

Chinese get in sync with Finnish skating

It's all about the team! Priya Kuusela (on top), Ida Kettunen (left), Minni Turtiainen and Lara Sundberg are practising at the Helsinki Ice Hall.
It's all about the team! Priya Kuusela (on top), Ida Kettunen (left), Minni Turtiainen and Lara Sundberg are practising at the Helsinki Ice Hall.
Aleksi Tuomola

Synchronised skating is a disciplined sport that works for the good of both mind and body. Now, Finnish expertise on ice is travelling to Chinese schools.

Jukka-Pekka Vuorinen

Jukka-Pekka Vuorinen

Aleksi Tuomola

Young girls in ice skates, all dressed in black, are watching a Zamboni slowly make its way across the rink at Helsinki Ice Hall. A men’s ice hockey practice has just ended, and some maintenance needs to be finished before the eagerly awaiting girls can start their own.

When the gate finally opens, the girls flood onto the ice and start warming up: skating backwards hand in hand, akin to an eloquent dance. Together, they form a synchronised skating team, trained by two-time world champion Laura Spiridovitsh.

“Synchronised skating is great for its diversity,” Spiridovitsh explains. “It requires physical strength and coordination, good balance, sense of rhythm and stamina. It’s also a team sport, as you can’t do it alone and have to be considerate of others all the time.”

These characteristics are beneficial for everyone, and the Chinese have taken note. Late last year, the Finnish Synchronized Skating Academy, owned by Jukka-Pekka Vuorinen’s company PJ Team, started to collaborate with Chinese company Wisdom Sport to spread the joys of synchronised skating to schools in Beijing.

Eyes on the Olympics

Plenty of coincidences took place before any papers were inked. For example, Beijing’s Shijingshan District has various partnerships with Mänttä-Vilppula, a town in Pirkanmaa, where the long-time ice hockey and sports business professional Vuorinen happens to run his company and work with the city council.

“The Chinese partners asked if we could help them bring synchronised skating to China,” Vuorinen says. “So, here we are.”

As the host of the 2022 Winter Olympics, a vast sports project is looming for China. Vuorinen says that there have been mention of adding synchronised skating to the competition’s programme.

“If the host country is in favour of the sport, it’s easier to get it through in the committee,” he notes. “This would pose a huge opportunity for Finnish skaters in their hunt for medals, so in that sense it’s a joint goal.”

At the minimum, synchronised skating can gain visibility in the opening ceremony or side events. If everything goes to plan, the performers and their coaches will be trained by Spiridovitsh and other Finnish experts.

“Laura is excellent, if only she could be copied!” Vuorinen praises. “She’s a two-time world champion and holds a master’s degree in sport and health sciences, and also is a wonderful teacher.”

An abundance of potential stars

Sani Teerimäki (left), Emelie Lindeman and Ada Pieninkeroinen are Laura Spiridovitsh's (right) students in Helsinki.

Sani Teerimäki (left), Emelie Lindeman and Ada Pieninkeroinen are Laura Spiridovitsh’s (right) students in Helsinki.

Aleksi Tuomola

Spiridovitsh has already paid her first visit to China. In the future, Vuorinen believes that Finnish trainers will move to China to teach full-time for a few years at a time.

At the moment, the project partners are preparing training materials, and in a couple of months’ time another set of trainers will travel to China. Come summer, Chinese skaters will flock to Finland for a training camp. In between, connections are dealt with digitally.

The path is long: one doesn’t become an Olympian in a heartbeat. However, Vuorinen sees this as a huge window for exporting Finnish sports excellence in other fields as well, especially women’s sports.

One of the challenges is to find suitable and available people to meet the immense demand. This year, the collaboration will include a couple of groups from five schools. When talking about China, the number of people, and therefore potential talent, is instantly on a grand scale.

“That’s also one of the reasons the Chinese were interested in synchronised skating instead of other winter sports to begin with,” Vuorinen explains. “It mobilises a lot of children at once and supports the education institutions’ other goals, too, including team work and other social skills.”

Synchronised skating has both physical and psychological elements, so it's a great sport for school children, too.

Synchronised skating has both physical and psychological elements, so it’s a great sport for school children, too.

Aleksi Tuomola

Text: Anne Salomäki

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