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Lepisto charges to take Finnish national title

Korpi falls short again, taking the silver medal

Finnish ladies national champion Laura Lepisto stands along the boards.
Finnish ladies national champion Laura Lepisto stands along the boards. (Jyrki Pirkkalainen)

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By Jyrki Pirkkalainen, special to icenetwork.com
(12/09/2007) - Laura Lepistö turned last year's silver into gold after a dramatic competition at the Finnish National Championships in Rauma on Sunday. Before the nationals weekend, Lepistö had only the fourth-highest seasonal best score among the Finnish ladies, which meant she was in danger of being dropped off of the Finnish team for the 2008 European Championships.

In Zagreb, Lepistö will be joined by two good friends of hers: long-time rival Kiira Korpi and clubmate Jenni Vähämaa, who competed at the Junior Grand Prix Final this weekend instead of nationals.

Instead of taking risks, Lepistö downgraded her most difficult elements, the triple-triple combination and the Lutz. The strategy paid off, and the 19-year-old from Espoo was awarded with 164.76 points, moving her to the top of the national rankings.

"I wanted to concentrate on skating a clean and well-balanced program. I have been taking lots of risks earlier this season, and now I wanted to do succesfull jumps also in the latter half of the program," Lepistö said.

"This was my best long program of the season, even though there were still quite a few errors."

Mixed emotions

The judges in Rauma were generous with their marks, and many skaters received their personal best scores even with flawed performances. Whereas Lepistö doubled several planned triple jumps in the free skate on Sunday, Korpi singled two of hers. The 2007 European bronze medalist wasn't able to keep the lead she had after Saturday's short program, but her personal best of 164.40 points earned her the silver medal.

Korpi's best friend and training mate lost her father on Friday. She was able to block the tragedy out of her mind, but after the competition she unleashed her emotions and shed tears in the press conference.

"It was hard to be focused when I would have wanted to be there for my friend. Right now, thinking about this competition feels insignificant. There are so many more important things in life," Korpi said.

Hip pain hinders Pöykiö

Tears were flowing also on Susanna Pöykiö's face after the competition. Pöykiö had to settle for the bronze medal after a performances that was not her best (147.35 points). Contrary to expectations, her seasonal best score (162.26) wasn't high enough to ensure her a spot for Europeans or worlds. For the 2005 European silver medalist, the season is now practically over before it really started.

"This must be the biggest disappointment of my career. I knew I wasn't in my best shape now, but I believed I could have been in top form by Europeans," she said after she had collected herself.

For the past weeks, Pöykiö hasn't been able to train properly. The 25-year-old from Oulu has cracks in the outer lining of the several discs in her spine, causing pain in her hip and also affecting her legs. She says it's "not completely healable, but the [back] problems can be held under control by daily exercises."

This condition is partly hereditary, but "the demands of the sport don't help. The pain is on the [jump] landing side. It has got to do with bending during layback, Biellmann and leg-lifting positions."

The 15-year-old Vähämaa took the third spot for Europeans. She did not skate her best this weekend, finishing fifth at the JGP Final in Poland. Her seasonal best score (163.29) from her gold medal-winning performance at the Finlandia Trophy was still enough to edge out Pöykiö.

Strong comeback for Mikko Minkkinen

A new champion was crowned in the men's event too. Mikko Minkkinen scored 171.69 points, ending Ari-Pekka Nurmenkari's five-year reign as the national champion. Minkkinen, a fourth-year medical school student from Tampere, was bothered by a series of injuries during the past couple of years but has made a successful comeback this season, winning his first national title. Nurmenkari won the silver; Valtter Virtanen the bronze.