I had previously read that what is now Nordic Walking began as a dryland training regimen for Finnish cross-country ski racers. Now, the international edition of a Finnish newspaper called Helsingen Sanomat presents another story of the sport’s origins. The paper’s English edition ran an article called “When Finland ‘Nordic Walked’ Its Way Onto the World Map”. It traces Nordic Walking to January 1988 as an ad hoc part of a tribute to Finnish sports legend, one Professor Lauri “Tahko” Pihkala. The good professor’s accomplishments included competing in the discus at the 1908 Olympics, inventing several sports including Finnish-rules summer baseball (called pesäpallo) and founding the nation’s sports institute. He also was an ardent proponent of cross-country skiing — as befits a Finn.
Because Pihkala was born in January, the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth was to feature cross-country skiing. The plan was for a ski procession from the Manula ski lodge in a park in the middle of Helsinki to the Olympic stadium, built for the 1952 Winter Olympics. Problem was that in 1988, as in 2007, there just was not a lot of snow on the ground.
Tuomo Jantunen, executive director of the national federation for sports and recreation, decided to haul a load of cross-country poles to Manula anyway. The skiers grabbed the poles and strode down the procession’s route., where a statue commissioned by the Tahko Pihkala Assocation statue (right) was unveiled. It stands atop a pedestal with Pihkala’s name, date of birth and death, and the quote: “Urheilun avulla kansamme parhaaksi.” (“With sport for the best of our people.”).
The paper noted, “The Nordic Walking pioneers recognised pretty soon that they had invented an exercise discipline that was eminently well suited to the autumn and to the snow-starved winters of Southern Finland.
“Nordic Walking found a potent lobby-group in the country’s sports institutes, who advocated heavily on its behalf. However, the real breakthrough only came when technology and business caught up, and when Exel — a leading player in the manufacturing and development of carbon composite poles for alpine skiers and the cross-country crowd — came up with specialised poles just for this fitness sport. “
The article concluded with a startling statistic about participation in Nordic Walking, citing participation in what it calls “the Nordic Walking superpowers”: Germany (2.7 million), Finland (1.5 million), Austria (900,000), Switzerland (500,000), Norway (400,000), and Holland, Sweden, and Denmark (300,000 each).