Flying Finn Manninen back for another shot at Olympic glory
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — Hannu Manninen couldn’t resist the temptation for one more shot at Olympic glory.
The Nordic combined great from Finland took time out from his job as an airline pilot for Finnair to make one final comeback at his sixth Olympics in Pyeongchang.
The 39-year-old Manninen graduated from the Finnish Aviation Academy in 2011 and started working as a pilot in 2016. He made the first of two comebacks at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. After Vancouver, he retired for a second time and eventually became a pilot.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Manninen said after Tuesday’s practice run at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Center. “Now I’m in the Finnish Olympic team. It’s a great feeling to feel this Olympic atmosphere after eight years.”
Manninen won gold as a member of Finland’s 4x5-kilometer Nordic combined team at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, adding to silver in the same event in Nagano in 1998 and bronze in Turin in 2006. In between those Olympic medals, there were golds at the world championships between 1999 and 2007.
Manninen retired in 2008, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. He currently flies A320s for Finnair but will move up to widebody A350s this year.
He says his celebrity status in Finland often takes passengers by surprise.
“Some passengers recognize the name when I announce it and will say to the cabin crew, ‘Is it THAT Hannu Manninen?’”
Manninen is not alone in his second career choice. Vancouver gold medalist Jason Lamy Chappuis of France is currently working on getting his pilot’s license.
“I don’t know if there is any connection between ski jumping and being a pilot,” Manninen said. “Maybe we just like to fly.”
Finland head coach Petter Kukkonen encouraged Manninen to come out of retirement for Pyeongchang.
“He is dreaming of a medal in the team competition,” Kukkonen said. “That’s the beauty of sports. It’s someone that really loves what they are doing. That’s why he is here. He wants to enjoy, have fun, keep smiling, help the team.”
None of Manninen’s teammates in Pyeongchang were even born when he made his Olympic debut at the age of 15 in Lillehammer. But Manninen said he is impressed by the level of commitment he sees in the young athletes.
“I think these guys are much more grown up,” Manninen said. “Me, when I was thinking I’m a 20-year-old guy in the Olympic Games, I was not that professional like these guys. I think they are making a good work here.”
As for the Pyeongchang Olympics, Manninen said he has hopes to medal in the team event on Feb. 22.
“I believe we have a real chance,” Manninen said. “For me that is the main goal. In the individual events I can maybe be No. 10 to 20, I cannot say that I will be top three.”
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