Susanna Pöykiö - fit for fight!

By Magdalena Osborne
Photos © EMJO

The time has finally come and in the next few days Susanna Pöykiö will travel to Torino for her first Olympics. The classic beauty moves with such grace on the ice she's been called a European Kwan. But Susanna doesn't want to be compared to anyone; she wants to be her own self known for her own style. She thinks she fits the stereo type "quiet Finn" though, but that didn't really show when she talked about her life and career, and behind the seriousness there's a lot of laughter.

On the first question, if she speaks any Swedish, she hesitated a second before answering:

"Very little - no."

A clear enough hint we should stick to English, a language test she passed with flying colors.

Susanna had an early start in skating; she was only three years old.

"Yes, I went to the rink because my sister skated, but I don't remember any of it... I have some pictures though from skating outside, I was very bundled up since it's so cold in the winter."

After a couple of years in a skating school she went on to train in a smaller group where she got more individual attention, and she started competing.

"I went to my first competition when I was six. It was a battle between the city where I lived and a city nearby. I placed 6th or something..."

Not bad for a first timer. But the decision to become a full time athlete usually comes a bit later than age six.

"I actually never decided! I kept training and the years just went by and suddenly I was doing international competitions. And when I'd gotten that far I wanted to keep doing it and not have any other hobbies. For a while I was doing gymnastics too and it was fun, but I had to choose because there was only time for one."

Needless to say she chose skating and she's been on the ice ever since.

She is once again coached by Berit Kaijomaa and for choreography she turns to Henrik Walentin, who's made her programs for the past three years. He lives in Copenhagen, and Susanna's been going there in the early spring to make the program and then gone back again at the end of the summer to polish it.

"Henrik would probably want me to come again during the season, but it's hard to find the time. He doesn't go to competitions with me, but there you really don't have the opportunity to do that kind of training anyway."

Finding time is hard indeed, but in November Susanna took time out to participate in the "Stars on Ice" shows in Antwerp.

"I actually think that was one of the best ways to practice. I did my short program and parts of the free. Skating the programs in Antwerp right before Cup of Russia was really good preparation."

This season started early with the Japan International Challenge where she finished in 5th place.

"In Tokyo we only skated a free program, so I hardly even count it as a real competition, but it was good practice."

Illness prevented her from participating in Skate Canada and the original goal to make the final wasn't possible. It was disappointing, but she was back for Cup of Russia and placed 5th. She then went on to win the Finnish Nationals and got a ticket to Europeans in Lyon, an important competition since the Finnish federation would select the Olympic team from the results. Three ladies were competing for Finland's two spots in Torino. Still bothered by an injury, Susanna struggled but won one of the spots.

"I'm very happy I decided to skate in Lyon, even if I hadn't been on the ice for a week before the competition. I still had problems but I fought through the programs."

The second spot for Finland went to young Kiira Korpi who enchanted the audience and placed right before Susanna.

"Kiira did a great job and was a good support for me in my situation. It's nice that we have such a talented young skater!"

Now the next stop for both girls is Torino. There's always a lot of hype surrounding the Olympics, it's the competition above all others and skaters dream of going there. But is it really so different to compete there?

"I don't know yet since I haven't been to one! But I don't think it will make a big difference, well, maybe mentally somehow... but it's a competition so you do your job as always. I'm training hard and I think I'll be ready to compete when the time comes."

She's already familiar with the Palevela arena since Europeans was held there last year.

"It's a nice arena, it's very bright, almost too bright! Coming out of a spin it's hard to find a focal point. But the arena is nice because the audience is so close."

In Torino, Susanna will once again perform her programs. The short is very jazzy, set to music not typical for Susanna, but she performs it with conviction and flair. Her free program is still "Romeo and Juliet".

"We changed the choreography a little, but when we made this program last year we decided it would be for the Olympic season, so I knew I would keep it. We've made a few small changes in the step sequence and to some spins. And I have a new dress."

Changes to programs seem to be an ongoing process to best suit whatever is the most up to date with the Code of Points.

"I like this new system because you have to skate better, but it doesn't work like it should yet. From my point of view there's still a chance to hold up some skaters. For those of us coming from smaller countries it's much harder, you really have to be the best to get the same amount of points."

Susanna should know. She's been undermarked for years and neither CoP nor any other system seem willing or able to fix that problem. One can only imagine what kind of results she could have gotten if she'd skated for a different country. It doesn't seem fair, it isn't fair and she half jokingly adds:

"I think the judges shouldn't know where the skaters come from!"

Hmm, an interesting idea, secret skaters to go with the secret judging! Maybe a bit hard to implement though...

"I know it's not realistic since there aren't so many of us and the judges know who we are... but still. Of course the system is new and it's still changing, so maybe some of this can be fixed. Overall the judges seem to make only small differences between the various components; like the points given are very similar for example for skating skills and transitions. That's not necessarily the case! The system includes more possibilities that we have seen yet."

The new levels 4 was a change and many skaters immediately tried to work them into their programs.

"Yes, actually, I too try to get the highest levels, but also to think about having a clean package. I don't want to make it too hard for me and then miss other elements after two minutes. Good quality and the second best level is sometimes better."

Finland is known for producing strong ladies known for their great skating skills and Susanna, Kiira and Alisa Drei all placed in the top 10 at Europeans. Susanna hopes this trend will continue although there have been some set backs lately.

"Elina Kettunen stopped skating and so did the junior girls Sari Hakola and Tytti Tervonen. So Finland doesn't have as many ladies coming up anymore, but we have some tiny girls who are good, they will come in 4-5 years. In Finland we do a lot of exercises and work on the skating, which is good, but I think we need to work more on the presentation."

When asked about her own training routines she frowns a little and confesses she's not real fond of running, but she does it anyway.

"I also do conditioning by jumping and a little bit of weight training. I used to take ballet classes, but it wasn't dancing, only the basics and it was actually quite boring... and since I moved I don't do that anymore. I don't participate in any lessons, but I have my own fitness coach who helps me decide what I need to do, and then I do it on my own."

Finns are known for saunas and she nods in delight at the mere mention. Finns are also known for dancing up a storm, in the tango.

"I think I could enjoy it, but I can't find any time for it. And the distances are very far where I live now so whenever I go somewhere it takes a long time. And by the time I'm through training I have no energy left for any dance lessons anyway. And I'm trying to study as well (home interior and design). I also have to spend time taking care of my apartment and cook and stuff, there's no one there to help me with any of that. I'm very far from my family and I do feel a bit lonely, so it's a good thing I'm so busy I don't have time to think about it much. Sure I meet some new people, but it's hard for them to understand how much room skating takes in my life. The friends I grew up with at home all understand about practice and practice and practice some more, but it's hard for the new ones."

Many skaters are accompanied to competitions by their parents, but for Susanna that's not the case.

"My sister sometimes comes, but my mom never watches me, she's too nervous! She told me thought she wouldn't be nervous this time, but as soon as the season started she said 'This is horrible, my heart is beating so fast! It's like I need to get into something else so she won't be so nervous all the time. But I don't think she would get that nervous for a show. And last year we had Nationals in my home town and she was there and watched me! That was really a step forward because at the competition before she had to go out during my performance. But that was like ten years ago." *laughs*

The minutes spent performing during a competition are few but so important since the outcome can determine the future. Focusing is the key and to keep the nerves under control, which is easier said than done.

"I get nervous before I go out there, but there are some pressure points on my hand I can press on and that's supposed to calm me down. It's like zone therapy and I have no idea if it actually works, but just doing it makes me feel calmer because I have done something. I used to have a mental coach, but I think a person is the best coach for himself. Only you can do it. Sure, you can do some relaxations and exercises, but I don't know how much that helps either... I'm not saying a mental trainer is wrong and of course if you have problems you need to talk to someone. I have my mom and people who are close to me and I can always talk to them."

Some skaters have announced or hinted they will quit after Torino but Susanna doesn't belong to that group.

"I think I could go another four years, at least that's how I feel right now. Sure I'm tired at times and I even get bored doing the same things every day, but this is what I want to do. And I have done it for so many years; maybe my time will come now."

Immediate plans after Torino include going to Worlds in Calgary. But what'll happen after that is still up in the air. Susanna doesn't take a lot of time off during the summer.

"I train back in my home town and in Copenhagen with Henrik. I was thinking about going to the US where he coaches in the summer (in LA), I went there two summers ago. Sometimes it's hard to decide what the most important things for you to do are. Because money is limited you usually can't do all you would like to."

In spite of the very busy schedule she sometimes finds time to go to the movies. Another favorite pass time is going to stores to check out textiles.

"I try to figure out what I'd like to have. I don't have a sewing machine but I sew some things at school. Mostly though I'd like to buy finished products from the real designers. I work with a company called Luhta, they have clothes and home interiors and I really like their stuff! They sponsor me with training clothes. I also get Riedell boots and Wilson blades. I get some help with my finances and the Finnish federation is trying to fix it so I won't have to worry about money."

Hopefully they will succeed. Before Susanna ran off she was given a few choices.

Warm or cold colors

Nordic Walking or jogging (I don't much like jogging...)

Alvar Aalto or Arne Jacobsen (they were the two best Scandinavian designers, can I choose both?)

Waltz or tango

Hair out or done up

Nokia or Ericsson

Well, any good Finn would have to say that.

The crew at Absolute Skating wishes Susanna all the best at the Olympics, we'll be watching!

Hyvä Suomi!







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