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Northern Lights

5 March 2020

Nea Norismaa and Ida Hulkko
Nea Norismaa and Ida Hulkko are striving towards Tokyo 2020

With one-third of Finland's territory above the Arctic Circle and winter temperatures ranging from -3°C. to -30°C, it is fair to say that not every day is a bikini day in Finland. Finnish swimmers are well prepared for the snowy weather and compensated with milder summers, ubiquitous saunas (apparently Finland has more saunas than cars!) and stunning landscapes, including 187,888 lakes. With their inherent inner strength, many Finns enjoy activities that require a certain fortitude, ranging from swamp football to ice swimming!

As one of the eight founding nations of the swimming governing body FINA after the 1908 London Olympics, Finland has a long history of competitive swimming. The national association, Suomen Uimaliito has 7 athletes on its Team Tokyo list with more on the national team pushing for qualification in the lead up to the Olympic Games.

We caught up with two elite Finnish swimmers striving for Olympic selection to find out what training is like in one of the coldest, but according to the 2018 UN World Happiness Report, the happiest nation in the world (they obviously didn't survey swimmers on their way to morning training).

Nea and Ida
Nea and Ida in the Fairy Flight Twisted One Piece and Splat Stat Strapped In One Piece

Ida Hulkko

Ida is the Finnish 50m breaststroke record holder swimming at the Tampere club. She is on the Team Tokyo list after a successful 2019 World Championships and with her times improving is a real prospect for selection, which to Ida would be a huge honour to represent her country at an Olympic Games.

What appeals to you most about breaststroke and the 50m distance?

Since I was a kid, breaststroke has been my fastest stroke. I like the challenge of working on technique every day as it is always evolving. You only become fast in breaststroke if you have the perseverance to practise! I'm better going all-out in a race and in the 50 metres there is no time for mistakes, everything must go right to get the best result.

How does your training routine reflect living in a colder climate?

We never swim outdoors and during winters we use cross-country skiing and other winter sports as aerobic training. I use ice swimming as a recovery method because the cold water speeds up fluid circulation in your muscles. The cold weather makes it easier to become ill, so warm clothing and taking care of your nutrition is also important.

Can you describe your training facilities and your support team?

Indoors we have a 50 metre and a 25 metre pool, together with a gym and a diving well. We also have an outdoor 50 metre pool and diving well, but swimmers rarely train there. My support staff includes my coach, a physiotherapist and lifting coach and a massage therapist.

Is healthy food important to you and your swimming? What are your favourite dishes and snacks?

Eating healthy is part of my everyday life, I enjoy cooking and making everything myself which gives me the chance to know what I'm putting into my body. I love Asian cuisine and a quality steak, cooked medium rare, plus ice cream and Finnish chocolate.

Nea enjoys some warmer weather in Splat Stat at Sunkissed Funkitas

Nea Norismaa

Nea is a national level medallist for Finland swimming for the University of Tampere where she is currently studying a Masters in Communications. A butterfly specialist, Nea has overcome injury in 2019 and is focused on a strong long course season to make qualifying times for European Championships and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, which would be a dream come true for Nea.

How did you start swimming butterfly and what are your favourite distances?

As a kid I liked to do dolphin kicks so when I saw my older brother swim butterfly I had to try it and I soon realised that I was good at it. There are days when it is easier to swim butterfly rather than freestyle, so I swim it to cool down after practice. My favourite distances are 100m and 200m butterfly.

Does your training routine alter in the winter months?

The winter months don't really alter our swimming because we always train indoors but I ride my bicycle to the pool all year round, so during winter I need to wear two scarfs to prevent my throat from freezing and my hair freezes even if I wear a beanie hat!

Are there any swimmers or other athletes in your family who have inspired you?

My older brother used to swim butterfly and he has had an enormous influence on my career. He used to swim in the junior national team and still supports me in everything I do.

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