The Olympics: An Inside Scoop with Joona Puhakka
As the Olympics come to an end, we’re still in awe of all the mind-boggling performances in Rio. Hungry for more, we had a chat with Joona Puhakka, the legendary Finnish diver, who gave us the Olympic lowdown from an insider’s point of view.
FF: Having competed three times, how would you describe the Olympic atmosphere?
Joona: The Olympics are a unique event each time since for the majority of athletes, that is the pinnacle of their career. Every athlete has dreamt about a chance to compete at that level since a young age. The atmosphere in all the Olympics has been similar, but spiced up with some unique flavor from the hosting country. In every Olympics, athletes get to live in their own little fairy land where everything is built around them. Food, volunteers, parties, logistics, training, and so on.
FF: What’s you favorite sport to follow besides diving?
Joona: I really enjoy watching swimming (I did practice swimming for 4 years but hated practicing it) since the athmosphere inside the swimming pool with roughly 15 000 people screaming out there is simply amazing. Other sports that are fun to watch is trampoline, gymnastics and track & field. I do remember very well watching women’s 100 meters’ sprint in Sydney Olympics when Marion Jones took the gold.
FF: Most of us will never experience the Olympic extravaganza. Can you think of any exciting insider info to share with us?
Joona: I really enjoyed that Heineken and Budweiser throw massive parties for athletes only. They compete in which one throws the better party and as an athlete, that is a cool situation to be in. Since Olympics are the pinnacle of an athlete’s career, a majority of athletes will end their career in the Olympics. All the hard work, strict lifestyle and endless times of saying “no” to fun stuff is history and athletes finally get to let loose. Heineken and Budweiser do a great job in providing a memorable surrounding to let loose.
FF: Being surrounded by world’s elite athletes, are competitors supportive of each other or is it strictly competitive?
Joona: Walking around in the Olympic Village always gave me an odd feeling. Every athlete that I passed by is at minimum a national champion in their sport. Is it competitive or supportive? I would say it’s a very supportive environment (at least in diving), although during competition it is fierce competition where every athlete is looking only to benefit themselves.
FF: What does preparing to the Olympics take, mentally and physically?
Joona: From a physical standpoint, each athlete there is in top notch shape in respect to their sport. From a mental standpoint, preparation can be difficult. In my first Olympics (Sydney 2000), I was really worried that I was going to be overly excited and screw up the event by trying too hard. So, I prepared myself to be relaxed and calm… I ended up being too calm. I ended up really not feeling it. I had mentally over prepared. In other games, I was mentally ready. Each athlete that we watch in the Olympics has been preparing physically and mentally to that moment for at least ten years, most likely 15-20 years. In their dreams, they have imagined how it feels, they have imagined how they will win and feel the rush of success in their veins.
FF: What sports do you enjoy nowadays? Has your Olympic career influenced your exercising habits somehow?
Joona: These days I am a fan of Golf and Tennis. While I was a professional athlete, I really didn’t follow any other sports – I simply focused on my own training. Now it’s nice that I can easily appreciate all kinds of sports and be amazed at all the skills that are possible to learn. My Olympic career has influenced my current exercising habits in a negative way. I am still (after 8 years) recovering from the excessive amounts of practice, which means, I bearly do any exercising at the moment. I did run a marathon in hopes of learning to enjoy running – didn’t happen. I have gone to the gym multiple times in hopes of building some muscle – didn’t care. Now I have lowered my standards and I am happily bicycling to work.
FF: Brazilian diver Ingrid Oliveira was reported to have a “sex marathon” on the night of the competition in Rio. To most of our readers’ surprise, International Olympic Committee gave out 43 condoms to each athlete in Rio to support safe sex. How would you describe the “vibe” in the Olympic Park which is filled with young athletes?
Joona: As I said earlier, Olympics are the pinnacle point of an athlete’s career and the majority of athletes end their career to the Olympic games. With all of it behind, no knowledge of what future holds, I can say that parties can get wild. I personally did enjoy the parties after completing own events. It’s a great time to hang out with fellow athletes, share stories of success and failure. After my own disappointment in Athens 2004 Olympics, a fellow athlete comforted me with the following words: “ No worries Joona, simply put your chin to your chest and head towards new disappointments.” As dumb as it sounds, that made me laugh sooo hard. It summarized an Olympic athlete’s life pretty well. During each Olympics, I have read about how each athlete gets so many condoms and how there are wild “sex marathons” takings place. Unfortunately, in three Olympics I have received zero (0) condoms (and in all honesty, I actually have looked for where to find them) and haven’t heard from anyone I know having “sex marathons”. I have only read about those in news papers. Since I highly doubt that papers can be so badly wrong, I have started to wonder where all the condoms go to… coaches?