Previous Page Search Again Next Page

Finally, champions from Finland have also raced in Minnesota. In 1949, for example, the Duluth Finns invited Leo Laakso and Matti Pietikäinen to enter the Fond du Lac meet, with Walter Salmio as chairman of the committee arranging for their visit. The same committee arranged the visits of Pentti Heino, L. Johanson, Olavi Kuronen and Matti Pietikäinen the following winter, and although the best skiers of America were entered in the competition, the Finns took the first prizes.

Similarly, ice-skating has had its enthusiasts, with crowds on the ice as soon as the lakes froze over in the autumn. While the children skated their `merry go round' the older ones went out for speed. Several of the better ones entered the races in skating carnivals with good results. The younger generation has shown even greater enthusiasm for this sport and have taken part on school teams.

Moving indoors, the vogue for wrestling began to appear among the Finnish-Americans about the year 1910. A few years before that, a group of Finns had arrived from Tampere, where they had become wrestlers in the Pyrintö Club: Gunnar Grönlund, Matt Kangas, Väinö Ketonen, Karl Lehto, Jooseppi Lehtonen, Kalle Rantala and Karl J. Wirtanen. In the spring of 1909 there was an announcement in the Urheiluviesti, the sports paper which Wirtanen had begun to edit, stating that Grönlund, Lehto, Rantala and Wirtanen had formed a group and would put on exhibition matches in the Minnesota mining region. Between performances they also taught other interested Finns the art of wrestling, gave shows all over the Middle West, and often took part in matches against other champions. That wrestling was not just a sport popular among a few but was enjoyed by vast crowds is claimed in the series of articles written by "G. A." (Gust Aakula) and K. J. Wirtanen in the Industrialisti in the spring of 1955, amplified with an article in the Ironwood Daily Globe of 26 February 1955.

Boxing was far from achieving the popularity among Finnish.. Americans that wrestling enjoyed. However, crowds did turn out to see a Finnish boxer: at Gunnard Bärlund's first bout in Minneapolis there was a big Finnish cheering section present, but when he lost on points to his opponent Hartnek his second appearance, in April 1939, according to the Canadan Uutiset, attracted "a small audience, although there were six other bouts on the program in addition to that between Bärlund and Negro Charley Neaves." This time Bärlund won with a knockout in the second. He made no other appearances in Minnesota, although he did stay for a considerable time in the United States.


Previous Page Search Again Next Page