HELSINKI (Reuters) - Gold in Beijing with the perfect throw, then a career in engineering and a family — javelin world champion Tero Pitkamaki has mapped out his dream of the future.
Last year, the Finn achieved close to everything in his sport, though the year also gave him the lowest point of his career.
He won gold in the world championships in Osaka, Japan, and was chosen as the European Athlete of the Year as well as the Sportsman of the Year in Finland, beating Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen.
His world title came after an horrific incident in Rome when he slipped on his run-up and his javelin veered to the left, spearing French long jumper Salim Sdiri in the side at a Golden League meeting on Friday, July 13.
Sdiri was taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries and returned to competition in February.
“There were quite a few sleepless nights and the first competition after the accident was a question mark,” Pitkamaki, a trained electrical engineer, told Reuters.
“I did not quite know what I should do and kept looking whether there was anyone near the sector and whether I still knew how to throw.”
The winning instinct did not desert him however. Pitkamaki says throwing the javelin comes naturally and his engineering training and knowledge of mechanics offer no help.
“You cannot really use mathematical formulas in javelin, you just have to know what shape you’re in and how it feels to throw.”
Pitkamaki, who threw a javelin in his first competition at the age of nine, winning by a wide margin, has not let the success and his status as a superstar in the Nordic country, where javelin throwers are feted, go to his head.
Nor does he think that being Finland’s biggest medal hope for August’s Beijing Games creates much extra pressure.
“In the end, we all compete against ourselves, not because of what the media or the population might expect...I do my best, and if there is no success, there is nothing I can do about it afterwards,” Pitkamaki said. “I try again.”
In his training, conducted in almost perfect silence, everyone had a role to play, he said.
“I could not become an Olympic winner all by myself, everyone is needed: coach, manager, those close to me,” he says and steals a glance at his girlfriend, fellow athlete Niina Kelo.
Pitkamaki said he achieved his personal best a week after their first date. Now they are building a house together in Ilmajoki, a small town in western Finland where he was born.
On the field it is just Tero and his javelin. He said he wanted to be responsible for himself and get the results he deserved. “If I am in good shape, and we lose, or if I play lousy, but the team still wins, that’s not right, or not for me.”
After he has given up trying to achieve the perfect throw — something he says will probably remain elusive — he wants to go into engineering.
Of his life now as a full-time athlete, Pitkamaki said: “My financial situation is good, I do not have to worry about going to work.” When asked if athletics did not count as a job, he said: “Well, I guess I have one.”
Pitkamaki recognizes that being a role model is something that comes with the territory.
“It does give responsibility to some extent, one has to manage personal life as well, being a role model for kids. One has to think what one does.”
Girlfriend Kelo, a heptathlete, said she had no reason to be jealous of the numerous female fans.
“One has to understand there are also female fans, and all sorts of things show up in the mailbox...it is all in good fun.”
Editing by Clare Fallon