Flying Finn

by Barry Mittan
Barry Mittan

Finland's Laura Lepistö, 19, performs to music from The Legend of 1900 soundtrack for her Short Program at 2007 Skate Canada.

Laura Lepistö became the third Finnish lady in four years to medal at the European Championships when she took the bronze medal in Zagreb in 2008. She joined Kiira Korpi, who won the bronze last season, and Susanna Pöykiö, who took the silver in 2005. But Lepistö made it to the podium faster than her countrywomen, making the podium on her first try. Korpi medalled in her third Europeans and Pöykiö in her fourth.

“This was my first experience at Europeans and I knew that I had a chance to be on the podium,” said Lepistö. “But I didn’t expect it. It was so close. I watched the performance of the last skater and Julia (Sebestyen) started really well so I was thinking ‘Did I really miss it by so little?’ I thought I would be fourth, but I crossed my fingers and for once, I was the lucky one.”

“I thought I would be more nervous at Europeans for the short,” she continued, “but I felt relaxed and confident. The program was good and so was the atmosphere so I was very happy.”

Lepistö had a busy season, winning a bronze medal at the Nebelhorn Trophy, placing fourth at the Finlandia Trophy, finishing fifth at the NHK Trophy and placing seventh at Skate Canada, where she led after the short.

“At Skate Canada, I didn’t expect to be so high after the short program,” recalled Lepistö. “I was so nervous for the long program that my legs were shaking, but I learned a lot from that experience. I think that’s one of the reasons I did so well at Europeans.”

Lepistö also won Finnish Nationals after taking the silver in 2007. “This has been a good year for me,” she noted. “Competitions are the reason why I’m skating. It’s challenging to see if you can be the best.”

The medal at Europeans was Lepistö’s first at an ISU championship. She finished seventh at Junior Worlds in 2007 and ninth in 2006.

“My goal for this season was just to qualify for Europeans,” Lepistö stated. “We had a very tough competition in Finland to qualify. Then I wanted to qualify to go to my first Worlds. I had to be one of the top two Finns here. I got it and I was very happy. I just want to do my best at Worlds and skate as good as possible and not be nervous. There will not be so much pressure there.”

Lepistö began skating when she was four years old. “My older sister was skating and I wanted to go too,” she recalled. “She competed until she was 15 or 16, but then quit. So now I’m the only skater in the family.”

“I like skating because it’s very challenging,” Lepistö said. “You aren’t just doing the same thing all the time. I like having different things to train and it’s fun to get higher levels. I want to improve my spins and flexibility so I’m taking ballet for that.”

The dark-haired teenager landed her first double Axel and triple Salchow when she was eleven, and now does all five triples consistently. “The loop is my best jump,” she noted. “I’m working on the triple Salchow-triple loop and triple loop-triple loop combinations, but I don’t have them in the program yet.”

Lepistö opens her short program with a triple toe-triple toe combination, and then adds a triple loop and a double Axel. In her long program, she includes a triple toe-triple toe, a triple loop-double toe, and a triple Salchow-double toe-double toe. Her solo jumps include triple Lutz and triple loop, plus two double Axels.

Virpi Horttana has always been Lepistö’s coach. She trains in Espoo, Finland during the winter and in Vierumäki, Finland and Tartu, Estonia in the summer. Lepistö only trains for two or three hours a day, six days a week because hockey teams take up most of the ice in Finland. She also does about an hour a day in off ice work.

“In the summer, we usually go to camps,” Lepistö noted. “Last summer, I went to a camp in Estonia with Alexei Mishin and Igor Pashkevitch for a couple of weeks because my coach told me it would be good for me. Then, when I came home, I skated in three other places in Finland.”

Maria McLean and Miia Nirhamo choreographed her programs for the 2007-08 season. “I have used the same choreographers since I was a novice,” Lepistö noted. “Maria does the programs and then Niia, who is my coach’s sister and my ballet coach, polishes them. I like to skate to different kinds of music and I always try to change my programs and do different things. I change at least one program every year.”

Lepistö’s short program music, which is the same as last season, is from the soundtrack of The Legend of 1900 by Ennio Morricone. “My coach found the music and I liked it,” she said.

“The long program music I found myself at a music library,” she continued. “It’s new this season. I also try to find music somewhere on the computer. That’s where I found the music for my show program.” Lepistö is using music from the soundtrack of Don Juan DeMarco by Michael Kamen for the long. For her gala program, Lepistö chose I Believe by American idol winner Fantasia Barrino.

That was a good choice because Lepistö had to come back from a tough season in 2006-07, where she missed half of the year with injuries. “The season before was pretty hard,” she explained. “I hurt my right hip doing too many triple loops. It was a stress fracture. I was off the ice for the whole summer in 2006. It was a long time off the ice, but I still wanted to come back and try to do my best.”

Listening to music is one of the ways Lepistö relaxes off ice. “I like all kinds of music except heavy metal,” she said. “That’s not my thing. I mainly listen to pop and rock.” Lepistö took piano lessons when she was young, but doesn’t play now. She also likes to go out with her friends, shop, watch comedy movies, play golf, and go snow boarding.

The 19-year-old will finish high school this summer. “I hope to get accepted to law school in Helsinki,” she said, “but it’s hard to get in there. My next big goal is to go to the Vancouver Olympics, and then we’ll see what happens. Maybe it will be a normal life without skating.”

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