Ari-Pekka Liukkonen returned home disappointed from the previous two Olympics. In Tokyo, the spring European champion is finally looking forward to success in the Olympic pool as well.
Five years ago a swimmer Ari-Pekka Liukkonen returned from the Rio Olympics in frustration and agony. Liukkonen was eliminated from the Olympic final in the 50-meter freestyle.
Liukkonen himself even spoke of a gold medal, but the expected joy of success turned into a violent disappointment.
The pre-Rio Olympics in London 2012 also went under the bench due to illness, as did many other value competitions since then.
In Tokyo, Liukkonen will jump into the Olympic pool for the third time in a healthier and better condition than ever before. Anxiety, stress and stomach and back pain are just nasty memories.
In May, Liukkonen swam the European champion in Budapest at 50 meters. It is also his main trip in Tokyo, although on Tuesday the program will first feature a 100-meter freestyle.
“In that, I don’t even have a realistic chance of getting ahead. One hundred meters is just meant to open seats to 50 meters and get a workout and routine. I don’t have a profit target for a hundred, ”says Liukkonen remotely from the athletes’ Olympic village.
Read more: “Maybe this also created faith for skeptics” – Ari-Pekka Liukkonen overcame back problems and even competes for the Olympic medal
The first rounds of the 50-meter freestyle on the main trip will be swim from a week later on Friday. Then you no longer work out or gather a routine, you have to swim hard.
In the European Championships in swimming Liukkonen won the final with a time of 21.61 seconds. The rest of the time was only three hundredths slower than the Finnish record of 21.58 in Liukkonen’s own name. He swam in July 2017 in Tampere.
In the first round, AP aka Liukkonen swam for the sixth fastest time 21.99. In the semifinals of the evening, he was third fastest (21.72).
“No one had flashed the horror time in the opening or semi-finals. The playing field was pretty open. Personally, I knew I was in great shape. Maybe this also created faith in skeptics, ”Liukkonen said of his mood at the time.
In this season’s statistics, Liukkonen is seventh in the golden age of the European Championships. The top 16 will advance to the semi-finals (Saturday, July 31). Eight swimmers will reach the final (1.8.).
“Finland’s record is hardly required for the semi-finals, but it is difficult to assess what the result will be enough for the final. That’s what I’m going to pursue. It’s been two years since the previous World Championships, where all the best were, ”says Liukkonen.
The coronavirus pandemic emptied swimming pools of races for a long time. The lack of the Games was also a problem for Liukkonen.
“Sprinters need races, that has been the biggest shortcoming. The lack of race starts bothered me when it was practically a year without races. ”
Tokyo’s overwhelming statistic is U.S. Caeleb Dressel, 21.04. Time is the third best ever in the world. Brazilian Cesar Cielo Filhon the world record is 20.91.
“The AP rises among the top ten swimmers who can take the medal. The number one favorite may not win. I can’t give that better forecast, ”the coach Marko Malvela said after the European Championships to HS.
Do you still agree with the start of swimming in Tokyo?
“The situation is still the same. AP’s very swimming is in the early qualifiers. When you figure it out, the AP gets the most out of himself. It may be that we will see a race of surprises. Europeans can challenge Dressel, ”Malvela says now.
Dressel is aiming for six gold medals in Tokyo. In the 100-meter butterfly, he is also the holder of a world record.
According to Malvela, the Intermission from the European Championships to Japan was heavy for Liukkonen. A week-long time difference camp in Fukuoka fixed the situation.
“It was a very good-natured camp. We got to be completely at ease. It started in Fukuoka, ”says Malvela.
“It’s easy to lose tithes, but it’s hard to win hundreds.”
In Budapest in the spring, Liukkonen beat other Europeans who were estimated to be faster than him. In the invitation competition held in Monaco the following week, Liukkonen was Fifth in the same group.
“In the European Championships, the first round, semi-finals and final were won by a different swimmer. It’s easy to lose tithes, but it’s hard to win hundreds. The margins are small. Mistakes must be avoided. Potential medalists will always be in the opening rounds in value competitions, ”says Liukkonen.
How excited are the third Olympics?
“Of course, after five years of waiting for these races, you have to be precise and careful at every point. When you start to get excited and the body starts to prepare, your stomach gets confused, but it can happen just as well in the Finnish Championships as in the Olympics. ”
Liukkonen says the stress caused by the tension has been controlled by his coach Malvela and psychologist Hannaleena Ronkainen discussions with.
Isot races and failures have escaped Luko. The shield has hardened and Liukkonen has learned to rule out unpleasant things: he knows how to be free of himself.
Liukkonen was the first well-known Finnish athlete to openly talk about his homosexuality.
“Experience has come along the way. I have learned to recognize stressful situations. In the past, illness in races has been more of a nervous load brought on by stress and anxiety than some other illness. It has been eliminated in five years. I have had good tools to regulate the total load, ”Liukkonen praises his background.
“I appreciate that an athlete belonging to a sexual minority can be a flag bearer.”
Although Liukkonen’s swimming contract starts on Tuesday, he got the glow of TV cameras at the opening of Friday night. Liukkonen was one of the Finnish flag bearers together with shotguns Satu Mäkelä-Nummela with.
Carrying a ticket was a pleasant honor for the 208-centimeter swimming giant.
“It was an honor to continue the more than 100-year-old tradition. I appreciate that an athlete belonging to a sexual minority is allowed to be a flag bearer. That is important for equality. ”
Liukkonen hoped that much had been said about his role in other countries as well.
Athletes at the Tokyo Olympics have the freedom to express their opinions as long as they follow good taste. Liukkonen intends to express himself only in the pool and by swimming as well as possible.
“The most important thing is that I can be in Tokyo playing sports and showing my best in the pool.”
Read more: Olympic athlete finally allowed to demonstrate at the competition venue – Finns hardly do that, but athletes from other countries are expected to take a stand more than ever
It is good for the athlete that the competitions are held. If you weren’t here to compete yourself, what would you think of the Olympics in this pandemic situation?
“It’s important for athletes to be able to play sports when a lot of work has been done towards the goal. It was right that the competitions were postponed by a year, ”Liukkonen thinks.
“Of course, it’s worth thinking about the responsibility of the Olympics, where they are held, which system to go with and how much it’s worth building huge complexes that will be used once or twice.”
Read all the HS Olympics at hs.fi/olympics.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter at www.hs.fi/urheil.
Born in February 1989 in Pieksämäki.
Place of residence Jyväskylä, municipal councilor.
Society Cetus, Espoo.
Coach Marko Malvala.
Father of former top volleyball player Pekka Liukkonen.
Length 208 cm, weight 100 kg, shoe size 52.
50m freestyle European Champion 2021.
For the third time at the Olympics. Rio 2016: 23. London 2012: 25 (50-meter freestyle).
Best rankings in other value competitions: World Championships 2017: 6 and European Championships 2018: 7. (50 m free).
Sports Gala Model of the Year 2014.