Morning cardio under the northern lights and other stories about the Finnish fitness industry… by Kaisa Piippo
In Northern Europe there is a small country buzzing with persistent fitness enthusiasts. The climate is cold, winter is long and summer is short but consists of days with 24 hours of daylight. People are hard-working, a little timid and highly educated. For people who hop into 4-feet deep snow straight from 200F heat from their home sauna, contest dieting should be a piece of cake – right?
Maybe it is! And perhaps that is the reason why the fitness scene there is so lively despite the small, 5 million people population. Even though according to the many researches Finnish people are the second fattest people in the world (right after Americans), healthy lifestyle and fitness are highly appreciated in this country.
The Finnish Fitness Federation is the official representative of IFBB in Finland. The federation organizes two main competitions every year, one in the spring and one in the fall. The spring contest is called Fitness Classic and the fall contest is the National Championships. There is also a qualification competition for the Nationals. Women can compete in two different divisions: figure and fitness. Women can also compete in female bodybuilding in the Nationals, which is organized by the Finnish Bodybuilding Federation.
In Fitness Classic there there are novice classes for both figure and fitness as well as open class for figure and fitness. Sometimes there is also a Nordic competition held at the same time, like the Nordic Championships in 2004. In Fitness Classic there are classes for the juniors figure and fitness (under 21 years) and masters figure (over 35 years). Once a competitor has competed in the novice class she can’t compete in the novice class again. Especially figure classes are quite large in Finland: in 2005 there were 15 competitors in the novices tall class and 11 in the short class. In open figure there were 15 competitors. Fitness has suffered from the popular figure competitions a little: in the novices class there were only four girls fighting for the novice trophy. The open class was even smaller: three top names of Finnish fitness participated in the competition. Because of the fitness’ small number of participants the novices were allowed to compete in the open class also, which made it a total of seven competitors.
Finnish National Championships are a little different than Fitness Classic: there is a figure qualification event a few weeks before the real contest. There are no novice or masters classes in the qualifications, so all of the ladies compete in the open class. If one has placed in top five in the spring’s Fitness Classic or part year’s Nationals, the qualification isn't needed. Usually the qualifications are quite a show already since there are many girls who are seeking to be qualified to compete in the Nationals. Top ten girls of the classes qualify for the Figure Nationals. Since fitness classes are so much smaller the qualifications argent needed. Even then novices can participate in the Fitness Nationals.
There are only open classes in the the National Championships. Figure is divided into two classes, short (under 5’4”) and tall (over 5’4”). In 2005 there were a total of 23 figure girls on the stage. Fitness has only one class and in 2005 there were six girls performing.
Finnish competitions differ from the American NPC competitions in some ways. First of all, figure is called body fitness in Finland. There are three rounds in figure. The girls are brought on the stage all at once and they are introduced to the spectators while standing on the line. There is no round for individual model turns. The competition is also held at one sitting, which means that there are only short breaks between the rounds. The first round is always the two piece round, the second round is the one piece and the third round is the final where only the top five competitors are brought on the stage in two piece suits. The judging is the same: the girls are presented to the judges in small groups of three to five. Of course every girl hopes to be in the first call-out! In fitness the rounds go quite the same, except the rounds are a bit different: there is a two piece round, the routine and the final two piece round, which only the top five girls participate.
All of the fitness and figure athletes in Finland are randomly drug-tested. By redeeming the competition licence (quite the same as the NPC card) the athletes accept to be randomly tested. The licence has to be redeemed 90 days before the competition date.
Competing in the international competitions under the IFBB organization is all about the Federation’s choices. As well as the pros, also the international amateur competitors are chosen by the Federation. Winning a show doesn't mean automatically qualifying for the Nordic, European or World Championships. Becoming an IFBB pro isn't a very easy task in Finland either. The federation may present a competitor to the pro division asking for her to qualify for the pro status. There are no particular rules for who should get the pro card, because the federation makes the choices. Some of them might have placed well in the international championships. At the moment there are five women in Finland who hold the IFBB pro status. They are Pauliina Talus (bodybuilding), Marja-Leena Lehtonen (bodybuilding), Lisbeth Hälikkä (figure), Jaana Kotkansalo (figure) and Aino-Maija Kare (figure). Pauliina Talus has competed in Jan Tana and Arnold Classic a couple of times. Marja-Leena Lehtonen placed wonderfully the third in Ms. Olympia in 2004 and competed in the same contest also in 2005. Lisbeth Hälikkä and Jaana Kotkansalo competed in Figure Olympia 2004 and Lisbeth has competed in many other pro shows during the past years. Aino-Maija Kare hasn't competed in a few years but her fans are still waiting for her to make her pro debut.
Since many Finns are shy, only few competitors make
themselves known internationally. Thanks to Hard Fitness for helping
also the Finnish girls gather their self confidence and encouraging
them to rise up and shine! By making Finland's hard working girls better
known around the world, maybe we’ll get some more awesome ladies on
the pro stage some day.
More photos of Finnish fitness and figure women can
be found from the biggest bodybuilding/fitness website Pakkotoisto.com’s
competition gallery: http://www.pakkotoisto.com/galleria.htm