After Rio, Olympic walker Aku Partanen is now aiming for the Tokyo Olympics.
Business Management student Veli-Matti ‘Aku’ Partanen, who studies on the Leppävaara campus, was representing Finland in the 50km Olympic race walk in Rio in August. His first Olympic experience ended in disappointment, however, when an old muscle problem put an end to his efforts just an hour and a half after the race had begun.
- It was a rough experience. Participating in the Olympics has been a goal of mine for my whole athletic career, and I had worked really hard towards the competition, Mr Partanen says as he describes how he is doing now in the Autumn.
- Now, however, I have managed to get going again with a new season of training, and a new goal is shimmering up ahead, so sport feels fun once again.
The Olympics were a wonderful experience
Mr Partanen’s athletic field is a special one because recovering from the 50km race takes a long time, so it is only possible to compete once or twice a year. On the competition day, everything must come together.
- And then some unexpected thing can interrupt and prevent you finishing the race, he points out.
- It’s the same as if you would study hard for a whole year and then in the end not get a single study credit. The year's work did not go to waste, but the final prize was not attained.
Although Aku has participated in both the European and the World Championships, the experience of participating in the Olympics was in a class of its own:
- You can get a grasp of the hugeness of the Olympics if you think about the fact they are like all the World Championships for every sport taking place in the same place at the same time, he describes.
Over 11,000 sportsmen and sportswomen participated in the Olympics. For Aku, the thing that really stayed with him from the Olympics was the community spirit of those participating. All the people in the Finnish team supported each other and sport also brought people together across team boundaries.
The next goal: get ready for the next Olympics
Aku Partanen began race walking when he was 9 years old, and he considers the best results of his athletic career so far to be reaching 18th place in the World Championships and getting a bronze medal in the junior division of the European Cup. Together with his coach Valentin Kononen, he has set as his main goal to make it to the Tokyo Olympics in four years’ time.
- More important to me than race results are everyday achievements and all the experiences that I have had along the way, he says.
- It doesn’t always go smoothly, and it’s not always fun to head out for a practice circuit. But it's often just when I overcome the difficulties and push through to that good feeling that I remember how enjoyable this is.
Aku trains for around 20 hours per week; main trainings are in the morning, and recovery trainings are in the evenings. The training rhythm fits together well with the studies.
- The Head of Student Affairs in Leppävaara has been an indispensable help in all this. We met already before I even started my studies in Laurea and we planned how the training for the Olympics and my studies could be fitted together, he explains.
During the Spring semester, Aku took mostly online study units and visited the campus to take just one Swedish test. The most important thing for fitting together sport and studies has been planning so that you know when the training will be lighter and there will be time to put in studies – and vice versa.
- So far, I have been progressing in my studies at the target rate. If this is possible during the year of the Olympics, then it is also possible in a normal year, he says with a laugh.
- My goal is to complete my studies before the Tokyo Olympics.
Sport and study balance each other out
As well as technique, the right kind of muscle, and endurance, race walking demands from the athlete real mental strength. The 50km stretch – equal to the distance from the Leppävaara campus to the Lohja campus – is a real mental battle for the athlete.
- If it starts to feel bad after 30km, you can’t start thinking that there is still 20km to go. Thoughts must be turned positive, and the remaining distance has to be broken down into smaller chunks to be completed one stretch at a time, Mr Partanen says.
He believes that sport also pays off greatly in other areas of life. Just as it is in top-level sport, setting goals and keeping track of them is important in studies and working life.
- Also ambition, self-direction and taking responsibility for one’s own decisions are important qualities in work and studies, he points out.
- Then there are also team skills; although this is a solo sport, we nevertheless don’t train and compete alone. There is also the manager, coach, physiotherapist and doctor.
Veli-Matti Partanen is currently studying Business Management and is particularly interested in financial administration. After his sporting career, he would be interested in working in the banking sector, for example. Entrepreneurship is also another option.
- Many things in sport, and in the qualities which are emphasised in sport – such as ambition, purposefulness, and living with the uncertainty that is always a part of sporting life – are in fact very comparable to what is needed in entrepreneurship, he summarises.
- At the moment, sport and studies balance each other out well. I really enjoy the combination.