Tips and advice from those who know
A Finnish senior national team member from 1991-2008,
Tanskanen won the high bar world title in ’97. A native of
Jyvaskyla, Tanskanen is still immersed in gymnastics. He’s the
Men’s Technical Director for the Finnish Gymnastics
Federation, and in January 2010 he was elected President of
the FIG Athletes’ Commission. After blogging from the 2010
Youth Olympics in Singapore in August, Tanskanen, 34,
graciously fielded questions from IG Editor Dwight Normile.
What do you hope to accomplish
as Director of Men’s Gymnastics
in Finland? I try to create opportunities for gymnasts to concentrate on
their training and for coaches to concentrate on their jobs. I basically have
to manage all the aspects related to
men’s gymnastics in Finland, from
recreational level to national team.
And, of course, I hope to improve
everything, but I have to take things one at a time. One thing we have
started is a new educational program for coaches, and I feel that that is
the way for more continuous success at the international level in the
Finland won the men’s team and all-around golds at the 1948
London Olympics. Did that influence you to become a gymnast?
That history did not directly influence me, since I had no idea of that
when I started gymnastics at the age of 6. Later, I became quite interested in history—in general and sports history, especially—and, in a
way, it was an inspiration for me to know the glorious history of
What do you remember from your 1997 world title on high bar?
I remember being surprisingly cool before the final. I was just ready to
show what I had been training for. The greatest moment was when I
stuck my dismount and realized I had hit a perfect routine. I simply
could not have done it any better. After the routine I did not care too
much about other gymnasts, since I had done the best I could. Of
course, it was nice to watch gymnast after gymnast trying to reach my
mark without success, but to win the title was just a product of being
able to perform at my highest level at that given moment. That feeling
has always been more important for me than the result itself.
Did you become well known in Finland because of your gold
medal? I became quite a celebrity in Finland because it was such a surprise for everyone. I was on the front page of most newspapers and on
national TV on many occasions. Finland, however, is different from the
U.S. Here, you do not end up on Kellogg’s cereal boxes or something
like that, so I did not receive any interesting opportunities. Of course, it
has been a huge advantage for me occupationally that people in sports
in Finland know me.
At the 1999 Tianjin worlds, you failed to qualify to the high bar
final. Did you feel extra pressure as defending champion? I was
not thinking about defending my title; my main goal was to qualify
myself for the Sydney Olympic Games. We never had that strong of a
team, so it was all about the all-around competition. I made an unfortunate mistake on p-bars, so maybe I was trying too hard to make up for
that mistake on high bar. I fell from the bar, injured my shoulder and
could not continue that competition anymore. So I did not qualify for
the Olympics, and that was really a bigger disappointment than not
being able to defend my title.
What do you hope to accomplish as President of the FIG
Athletes’ Commission? Naturally, I try to watch [out] for the benefits
of gymnasts in all disciplines. I try to bring the experience I have for the
decision-making bodies. I want to gather more opinions from every
gymnast concerned … so that I really can represent the athletes of
today in the FIG.
What is your opinion of the new open-ended scoring system?
I think it has been a good thing. In the past we had, on the worst occasions, the top 20 gymnasts [scoring] within a few tenths. Who could
really put them in the right order with such a margin? Naturally, we still
have room for improvement in the current Code of Points. I think the
emphasis for now has been a little too much on difficulty, but if we can
apply the execution in [the] way it is written in the Code, I think it will
be good. We just need to find the right balance between execution and
difficulty. I am trying to say that, for me, there are two ways of reaching the same result: with high difficulty or with an easier exercise but
close to perfect execution. And in the past, the gymnasts doing the latter have not been rewarded. This has led to everybody packing their
routines with maximum difficulty.
What were your impressions of the first Youth Olympic Games in
Singapore? I had the perfect experience in Singapore. The level of
competition was great, and one really could see the universality of sport
there. I was surprised to see the cultural and educational program (CEP)
by the IOC to be so successful. I had great discussions with many young
athletes representing different sports from all over the world. The discussions covered every aspect of a young athlete’s life, and I hope and
believe I inspired and helped some of the youngsters to pursue their
dreams in sport and in other areas of life, as well.
Should the FIG should consider organizing a junior world championships? That is a possibility worth taking a closer look at, but at
the moment I do not think it is the most important thing.
What goals do you hold for yourself in the world of gymnastics?
I just try to do my jobs as well as I can and see what I can accomplish. I
hope that I am able to serve the gymnastics community, both in my
country and also internationally, to my full potential for a long time.