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                        Juha Salminen
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             What contemporary Finnish athlete has won 12 world
           championships in his sport? Few Finns, even, could answer
            the question. Although Juha Salminen, world champion in
         motorcycling’s enduro racing, is one of his sport’s most dominant
               athletes, he gets to walk in peace down the street.

           he Sportswriters’ Association in      longer and more comprehensive in English
           Finland has been naming Finland’s     than in Finnish. Not even in sport can you
           athlete of the year for decades. A    be a prophet in your own land.
           motorcyclist has yet to receive the
honour. Salminen’s world titles have sufficed
a couple of times to put him among the top                    A minor sport
ten Finnish athletes in the correspondents’
balloting, and he was admittedly chosen the      As a sport, enduro is very poorly known.
Helsinki region’s best athlete in 2002.          It’s a motorcycle competition in which the
  Within his sport, however, the recognition     cyclists try to cope with the stated route
has definitely come. In Finland he has been      within the framework of the timetable
chosen motor sports athlete of the year          given, and to complete separate off-road
twice on the basis of public voting. Today,      tests as quickly as possible. The principle
articles in Wikipedia constitute a yardstick     is the same as in rally-racing, but an enduro
for judging an athlete’s fame, and as of this    route – stretching as much as 80 kilometres
writing the Wikipedia entry for Salminen is      – is off-road. In an enduro competition, the

                                                                          Photo: JOUKO SALMINEN

                                                                                                  In the sports media, enduro
                                                                                                  world champion Salminen’s
                                                                                                  name and picture rarely make
                                                                                                  the front pages. Nor is there any
                                                                                                  point in comparing his salary
                                                                                                  to those of other motor sports’
                                                                                                    The American Motorcyclist
                                                                                                  Association acknowledged his
                                                                                                  success by naming him 2005’s
                                                                                                  ”sports athlete of the year”.

                                                                                                                        Photo: EDMUNDS J. KTM IMAGES

driver also takes responsibility for servicing          bike. For lack of time, he thus had to give up   ish motocross championship in the open
his or her bike; in many better-known motor             the love of his youth.                           class.
sports, dozens of mechanics and engineers                 ”I’m sure there’s no motorcycle sport             Dusting off his old skills, Salminen rode in
swarm over the instrument of competition.               where you need as much driving practice          the last Finnish championship qualifier this
  In the sports media, enduro champion                  as you do in trial.”                             autumn and won in his class.
Salminen’s name and picture rarely make                   He knows whereof he speaks.The enduro             ”Trial’s useful for motocross and enduro,
the front pages. Nor is there any point in              champ can also boast of competitive suc-         but neither motocross nor enduro is of any
comparing his salary to those of other                  cess in motocross.                               use in trial,” he says.
motor sports’ champions – or even their                   ”In a way, motocross is the nicest motor-         He compares the sports in a businesslike,
challengers.                                            cycle sport. If I’d won as many world cham-      analytical way. His talents would have al-
  Nonetheless, Salminen’s choice of sport is            pionships in motocross as enduro, the re-        lowed him to contend for the world cham-
in fact based on pay. He began going in for             spect would be on a totally different order.     pionships in the other disciplines, too. His
motorcycling – trial motorcycling - when                And if I drove for the money, enduro defi-       final choice dates from ten years ago. When
he was four, and did well in that discipline,           nitely would not be my choice of sports.”        an offer was arranged for him to drive pro-
winning the Finnish junior championship                                                                  fessionally for Austria’s KTM team, six-time
and representing Finland in the world                                                                    world champion Kari Tiainen, then the
championship qualifying events. Having got               Trial, motocross – and finally enduro           king of Finnish enduro cyclists, exercised
his certification as a pipe-fitter and taken a                                                           significant background influence. In the au-
full-time job at a shipyard, he was forced to           Salminen would hardly have brought up the        tumn of 1998, Tiainen and Salminen shared
admit that it would be virtually impossible             rear on the motocross tracks, either. In 2001    in the most traditional prize for enduro driv-
to continue competing in trial. On top of               he helped the Finnish team win a silver          ers, the World Trophy, which goes to the
an eight-hour work day, he would have to                medal in the European team championship          winning team in the International Six Days
spend another such stint practising on a                competition.The next year he won the Finn-       Enduro team event. In all Salminen has won

M o t i o n   –   S p o r t s   i n   F i n l a n d   2 / 2 0 0 7
the trophy five times as a member of the           By MATTI HINTIKKA
Finnish team.
   It says something about his domination
that he won his third world title in enduro’s
smallest class in 2000, while meanwhile                               In Motor Sports, the Success
winning the overall competition against ri-
vals driving much more powerful bikes.
                                                                         Just Keeps on Coming
   Like so many other athletes who have
made it to the top, Salminen did well in sev-

                                                   Kovalainen Not
eral sports in his junior years, even outside
of motor sports. He played ice hockey and
bandy – and played them well – on junior
teams in Helsinki. In bandy he reached the

                                                      the Only
men’s league level and the national junior
   Motocross, which carries the risk of in-
juries, was the young boy’s first competi-
tive motor sport. Minor accidents occurred

often enough, however, that his father con-
cluded that it would be better to learn to
drive first and then give motocross a try.
   Accidents have happened on enduro
routes, too.This past autumn, a bike’s motor
quit, jerking the bike to a stop, flinging the
driver over the handlebars and breaking his
collarbone in the crash.
   ”Stuff happens every so often – that’s the             These days, the Finns’ traditional fortes in sport – athletics, skiing
nature of the sport,” he says. ”I’ve got to                 and wrestling – only give cause for celebration at the world
drive a long time without any crackups.”
                                                           championship level now and then. In motor sports, by contrast,
                                                                         the Finns seem to win all the time.
     Motorcycle athlete of the year
        – in the United States
In 2005, the 11-time world champ took on

new challenges. He entered the U.S. Grand
National Cross-Country Series. Two seasons                          ith the 2008 season ahead,    edge: Jari-Matti Latvala reached the po-
in North America produced championships                             the forecast looks promis-    dium after a world championship qualifier
in both years.                                                      ing once again. Kimi Räik-    for the first time in his career in November,
   ”You drive the GNCC races on a route                             könen will be driving For-    at the Ireland rally.
that’s got wild jumps, mud, rocks, tight turns     mula 1’s most legendary automobile, a Fer-        In motorcycling, Mika Kallio is contend-
and merciless competition, cause they cram         rari, adorned with the world champion’s        ing seriously for the world title in track cy-
lots of racers onto a narrow track,” he de-        competition number, 1.                         cling’s 250-cc class. Thus far only one Finn
scribes this slightly different tour. ”A typical      Heikki Kovalainen managed splendidly        has climbed that high – Jarno Saarinen,
lap of the circuit lasts about 30 minutes and      in his first F1 season, demonstrating that     who lost his life in an accident in Monza
you do five or six laps. A GNCC race is a          the firm Finnish traditions in the king of     in 1973.
speed race and a survival race.”                   motor sports will continue in years ahead,        In motocross, too, the Finns are return-
   In the States, motorcyclists keep to them-      too. In 2008 he’ll be driving a McLaren car    ing to the tempo of success they’ve known
selves, but Salminen convinced everyone            as Lewis Hamilton’s teammate. Kovalainen       in years past. In the 2007 season, in the
with his speed. The American Motorcyclist          is the fourth Finn to join McLaren’s ranks.    MX3 division, Jussi Vehviläinen managed a
Association acknowledged his success by            The first three – Keke Rosberg, Mika Häk-      world championship bronze, the first world
naming him 2005’s ”sports athlete of the           kinen and Kimi Räikkönen – have all been       championship medal to be won by a Finn in
year” – an honour ”presented annually to an        world champions.                               motocross in 17 years.
individual who has, in the opinion of AMA             Among future names in track racing, the        The success of enduro drivers in 2008
Sports, dominated his or her amateur racing        most interesting is indisputably Emma Kim-     will bring smiles to the faces of Finnish fans
discipline”.                                       iläinen, who, having finished secondary        who like medals and championships. Gen-
   ”I knew I was a candidate, but as a for-        school, will have a chance to concentrate      erally, Finns have claimed more than one
eigner I didn’t believe I’d be the choice.         on her competitive career. Will she become,    enduro world championship each year.
When you become the first foreigner to be          in a few years, the first Finnish woman to
chosen motorcycle athlete of the year in the       have competed in an F1 car? The 2008 sea-
United States, maybe you’ve got to be satis-       son will show us which way the winds are
fied with your season.”                            blowing.
   Salminen has not escaped notice entirely           In rally-racing, Marcus Grönholm ended
in his native country, either. This autumn         a fine career with a silver-medal showing in
he was introduced on a popular TV sports           the world championship series – better than
programme as ”the Paavo Nurmi of motor             any former world champion to have retired
sports”. Comparison to the most success-           before him. His teammate Mikko Hirvonen
ful athletics performer in Olympic history         ended the 2007 campaign with a win in the
would be an honour for any Finnish ath-            Wales rally, and looms as world champion
lete.                                              Sebastien Loeb’s top challenger.
                                                      The next prospective champion from Fin-
                                                   land is already a matter of public knowl-


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