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Sport is considered a national pastime in Finland and many Finns visit different sporting events regularly. Pesäpallo is the national sport of Finland, although the most popular forms of sport in terms of television viewers and media coverage are ice-hockey and Formula One. In spectator attendance, harness racing comes right after ice hockey in popularity.
The sport of athletics has historically been an important part of both Finnish sports history and national identity. Hannes Kolehmainen has been said to "run Finland onto the world map" at the 1912 Summer Olympics, and from the 1920 Summer Olympics to World War II Finland was the second most successful country in athletics, as only the United States managed to collect more Olympic medals. Javelin throw is the only event in which Finland has enjoyed success all the way from the 1900s to this day. Thus, it is currently the most popular athletics event in Finland.
Football in Finland, unlike in most European countries, is not the most popular spectator sport, as it falls behind ice hockey, which enjoys a huge amount of popularity in the country. Football tops ice hockey in the number of registered players (115 000 vs. 60 000) and as a popular hobby (160 000 vs. 90 000 in adults and 230 000 vs. 105 000 in youth). It is the most popular hobby among 3-18-year olds, whereas ice hockey is 9th. Football's standing is constantly increasing, where the yearly growth rate has lately been over 10 percent. In season 2006–07 19,9 percent of registered players were female. The Football Association of Finland (Palloliitto) has approximately a thousand clubs as its members. According to a Gallup poll, nearly 400 000 people include football in their hobbies.
Ice hockey is the most popular sport in Finland. The Finnish main league SM-liiga has an attedance average of 4,850 people. The Finnish national team has won the World Championship twice, in 1995 and 2011. Some of the most notable Finnish players are Teemu Selänne, Jari Kurri, Jere Lehtinen, Teppo Numminen and brothers Saku and Mikko Koivu.
Harness racing in Finland is characterised by the use of the coldblood breed Finnhorse along with modern light trotters such as the Standardbred. In lack of gallop racing culture, harness racing is the main equestrian sport in Finland. Horses used for harness racing in Finland are exclusively trotters.
Racing back home from church had been a tradition long before the first organised race was held in 1817. Modern racing started in the 1960s, when light breeds were allowed to enter the sport and Parimutuel betting gained foothold as pastime. Nowadays harness racing remains popular, with the main events gathering tens of thousands of spectators in the country with a population of some 5 million.
Developed bu Lauri "Tahko" Pihkala in 1920's and often considered as a national sport of Finland, pesäpallo has a steady popularity around the country, specially in the Ostrobothnia region. The main national league, Superpesis, has an attedance average of about 1600 in men's and 500 in the women's league.
Motorsport became popular in Finland in the 1950s with the birth of rallying competitions. In the 1960s Finnish rally drivers such as Rauno Aaltonen, Timo Mäkinen and Pauli Toivonen started to dominate international events and have held the post since, making Finland the most successful nation in the World Rally Championship. Juha Kankkunen and Tommi Mäkinen both won the World Championship four times during their respective careers. Finland's WRC event, Neste Oil Rally Finland, gathers 500,000 spectators every year.
Currently the most popular form of motorsport is Formula One. F1 was popularized in Finland in the 1980s by Keke Rosberg, who in 1982 became the first Finnish Formula One World Driver's champion, and reached its peak when Mika Häkkinen won the championship twice in the 1998 and 1999. Kimi Räikkönen, the 2007 champion is one of two current Finnish drivers in Formula One. For the 2013 season, former test driver Valtteri Bottas will compete for the Williams F1 team.
Other forms of motorsport popular in Finland include Grand Prix motorcycle racing, which reached its peak in the early 1970s before the death of Jarno Saarinen and enduro, in which the 7- and 11-time World Enduro Champions Kari Tiainen and Juha Salminen have ensured media coverage in their home country.
Finland has always produced successful competitors in the disciplines of nordic skiing. Championship-winning male cross-country skiers from Finland include Veli Saarinen (winner of an Olympic gold and three World Championship titles in the 1920s and 1930s, Veikko Hakulinen (who won three Olympic and three World Championship golds in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as a World Championship silver medalist in biathlon) and Juha Mieto (who won an Olympic gold medal in 1976 and two overall FIS Cross-Country World Cups). Among female athletes, Marjo Matikainen-Kallström won a gold at the 1988 Winter Olympics, three World Championships and three overall World Cups and Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi won three golds at both the Olympics and World Championships and two overall World Cup titles.
Finland has been the most successful nation in Ski jumping at the Winter Olympics, having won ten golds, eight silvers and four bronze medals. Notable names include Matti Nykänen, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, a five time Ski Jumping World Champion, the 1985 winner of the FIS Ski-Flying World Championships, a four time winner of the overall World Cup title, and a double winner of the prestigious Four Hills Tournament. More recently Janne Ahonen has been one of the top competitors in the sport since the mid-1990s, winning five World Championship golds and two overall World Cups. He is also the record holder for wins in the Four Hills Tournament, having won the competition five times.
As a country strong in both cross-country skiing and ski jumping Finland has also enjoyed success in Nordic combined. Heikki Hasu won golds in Nordic combined in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, as well as a cross-country gold in the 4 x 10 kilometre relay at the 1952 Olympics. He also won a World Championship gold in 1950. Samppa Lajunen won three Olympic golds at the 2002 Olympics and two FIS Nordic Combined World Cups. Hannu Manninen won the World Cup for four consecutive seasons between 2003/4 and 2006/7.
Although traditionally not as strong as Norway, Sweden, Germany and Russia in biathlon, Finland has had world-class competitors in this event. Heikki Ikola and Juhani Suutarinen were both highly successful in the 1970s - Ikola won four World Championship golds and Suutarinen won three. In 2011 Kaisa Mäkäräinen won a World Championship title in the pursuit at the Biathlon World Championships and was Biathlon World Cup champion.
In recent years Finnish skiers have enjoyed success in the technical disciplines of alpine skiing. Kalle Palander was Slalom World Champion in 1999 and World Cup Slalom champion in 2003 Alpine Skiing World Cup. Tanja Poutiainen won three discipline World Cup titles in Slalom and Giant Slalom in the 2000s.
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