A Fine Figure of a Finn

Finland's Kiira Korpi performs to Triunfal by Astor Piazzolla at the 2007 European Figure Skating Championships.

Widely regarded as the most beautiful woman in figure skating, Finland’s Kiira Korpi is also among the most talented and she has the results to prove it.

Korpi broke onto the international scene after earning the silver medal in junior ladies at Finnish Nationals during the 2002-03 season. She finished 19th at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships that year, then improved to 16th in 2004 and 10th in 2005.

Korpi just missed the podium at the 2004-05 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final, finishing fourth. That season was her first to qualify for the European Figure Skating Championships, where she placed 13th, after winning the silver medal at Finnish Nationals in seniors.

Her rise at the European Championships was strong as she jumped from 13th in her debut to sixth in 2006, earning her a trip to the 2006 Olympic Winter Games where she finished 16th. “I hope to go again in 2010 and maybe stay until 2014,” she said. “I’ll only be 25 then and that’s not too old.”

After the Olympics, Korpi placed tenth at Worlds that year. In 2007, she earned her first European medal – a bronze, but only placed 14th at Worlds the following month.

During the 2007-08 season, Korpi was hampered by severe sinusitis early in the season which caused her to miss her first Grand Prix event at Skate America. She placed fourth at Cup of Russia, and then had to settle for a fifth place at finish at Europeans – just 0.68 points out of the medal range.

“I was really pleased with my skating at Europeans,” recalled Korpi, who was second after the short program. “I felt quite relaxed and confident before the program. In the warm-up, I was a bit nervous because there was a lot of noise and a lot of supporters, but I was prepared for that. I was able to get a relaxed but determined feeling. I gave 110 percent in the last step sequence. I have always been a fighter. I don’t give up if there are setbacks.”

Korpi was a bit dissapointed with her long program in which she placed fifth. “I made too many mistakes and it was so close. Just small things kept me off the podium. Maybe one more clean jump was enough. But you can’t keep saying ‘what if, what if’. It’s no good to think about it.”

At Worlds, Korpi was hoping for a strong finish after placing fourth in the short, but a disastrous free skate resulted in a ninth place finish overall.

Ultimately, Korpi’s goal for the 2007-08 season was to qualify for both Europeans and Worlds and to skate well. “I would have liked to have medalled at Europeans again, but it was a different situation than last year. Then, I just had to come in and skate and Susanna (Pöykiö) had all the pressure. Now I’m the most experienced Finnish lady and the most pressure was on me. I was happy for Laura (Lepistö, her teammate). Now we have three medals in four years at Europeans.”

“We need four places for Europeans and Worlds,” Korpi stated. “We have a really strong ladies team in Finland and also some young skaters coming up like Jenni (Vähämaa), a super talent. We had a tough competition in Finland to decide who went to Europeans and only the top two from Europeans could go to Worlds. So it’s a pity that Susanna couldn’t come. We have good coaches and a good working attitude and good national teams. There are a lot of camps where we train together and push each other, so maybe that’s why we are coming on so strong nowadays.”

The 19-year-old has never won the Finnish Nationals in seniors, although she has won the silver twice and the bronze once. She does have two gold medals from senior internationals, the 2005 Merano Cup and the 2006 Finlandia Trophy, plus a silver from the Golden Spin of Zagreb in 2007.

Maaret Siromaa and Susanna Haarala coach Korpi, who trains primarily in her hometown of Tampere. She has worked with Siromaa for ten years and Haarala for four. Because of her schoolwork and exams, Korpi only managed to train about two hours a day on the ice, five days a week this season. She spends another six hours a week in off ice training. In the summer, her home ice rink, which is just a short distance from her home, is closed for two months, so Korpi trains at other rinks in Finland and travels to camps in other countries.

“Thanks to hockey, there are lots of ice rinks in Finland,” Korpi explained. “My town has only about 200,000 people, but ten ice rinks. But they are full from seven in the morning until ten at night.”

She should know. Her local hockey team, Tappara Tampere, has won the national hockey championship in Finland. The team is coached by her father, Rauno, who also coached Finland’s women’s hockey team to a bronze medal in the 1998 Olympic Games. “I’m glad I didn’t go into hockey,” said, Korpi who began to skate when she was five years old. “My older sister was skating and then some of my friends started so I wanted to skate with them.”

The first triple jump that Korpi landed cleanly was a triple Salchow when she was only 11 or 12, however, she didn’t use the jump in her programs this season. “I didn’t have a triple Salchow in my program because nowadays with the new judging system, you don’t have to include all different jumps in your program,” she explained. “So we thought that the toe loop would be more easy for me than the Salchow.”

Korpi feels the Code of Points is helpful in that it allows skaters to see the points for all their elements. “Then you can find what to improve. My coach and I look at the scores after each event to see what to change. At Europeans, I found that I needed to improve my layback spins and hold my spiral positions longer.”

“My favorite jump is the triple Lutz,” Korpi noted. She included plenty of those this year. Korpi’s short program featured a triple Lutz-triple toe combination, a triple loop and a double Axel. For the long program, she used a triple Lutz-double toe-double loop, triple loop-double toe, and double Axel-double loop combinations plus a solo triple loop, triple flip, triple Lutz, and triple toe loop. “I was working on my triple toe-triple toe and triple loop-triple loop after Nationals,” she added, “but we decided not to add them yet.”

Korpi had a late start this summer in training due to school exams and illness. “I had a weird stomach problem last spring. When I ate, it felt really bad. So I had to take time off to have an endoscopy. They found an infection in my esophagus and were able to cure it with some medicine. Then before Skate America, I had a bad flu and sinusitis and couldn’t go there so I went to Golden Spin a few weeks later instead.”

Nelli Petänen has choreographed Korpi’s programs for the last six years. She kept her 2006-07 long program to Phantasia by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sarah Chang, but skated a new short program to Triunfal by Astor Piazzolla.

Korpi usually finds her own music in consultation with her coaches. “I usually change one program each year,” Korpi said, “but next year I may change both. I liked the short program, but it’s so different and the costume is unusual so the judges might remember it.”

“I found the short program music when I was at the Japan Open last year,” she stated. “I was training in Osaka and my coach and I went to a huge music store looking for new music. We found this tango and at first I was not so impressed, but actually it’s quite fun.”

“My coach found the music for my long program,” Korpi continued. “I had not skated to classical music before and she thought that I would be ready for it.”

For her exhibition programs this season, Korpi skated to a medley of ABBA songs including Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!, The Winner Takes It All, and Dancing Queen. Her costume included an electric blue leotard and sparkling silver tights. “I was thinking with my choreographer about what would be good show music. She suggested ABBA almost as a joke. Then I thought that it might be interesting and fun.”

Two weeks ago, Korpi competed at the 2008 Japan Open in Tokyo where she was part of Team Europe along with Stephane Lambiel, Adrian Schultheiss, and Sarah Meier. The team placed second behind Team Japan, while Team North America was third.

Off ice, Korpi listens to all kinds of music, listing Alicia Keys and Whitney Houston as two of her favorite singers. “But I don’t listen to heavy metal even though Finland is famous for heavy metal bands,” she laughed.

When relaxing, Korpi usually reads or enjoys watching television or a movie. “I like comedies and anime films. If I have a day off, I like to hang out with my other-than-skating friends or just stay home in my pajamas the whole day.” She listed the Harry Potter series as among her favorite books. She also does Astanga Yoga.

For more active pursuits, Korpi enjoys tennis and snowboarding. In her youth, she tried gymnastics, but preferred skating as her sport of choice.

Korpi is graduating from high school this spring. “I have one exam and then I’m done,” she said. “I’m going to try to study business at the university. I don’t have any special dreams, but my sister has studied marketing and really liked it. So I will follow in her footsteps.” Korpi has an ear for languages and is fluent in Finnish, Swedish, English, and German, which should help in a business career.

Although the blonde beauty looks like a model, she has no aspirations in that direction. Except for appearing in one television ad for Valio, Finland’s largest dairy company that is one of her sponsors, Korpi hasn’t done any modeling or other similar work.

Korpi’s official website is at http://kiirakorpi.fi/ while a major fan site exists at http://www.kiira-korpi.net.

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