The hard path to the Olympics – By Kristiina Mäkelä, Finnish Olympic Triple Jumper

Photo: Sami Vaskola

The world is full on information. Scientific facts, made up stories, true stories, you can be asked to believe almost anything…

Almost everything is available in internet but it seems that people keep knowing less. People with an education for critical thinking can find it hard when looking for true knowledge. In sport this is even more complicated because there are so many ways to reach top performance and so many body types to take in consider when trying to establish guidelines. Training methods and programs that work with one person do not necessarily work for another. This is a great challenge for coaches.

My body type is very extraordinary. I’m tall (185 cm), my legs are extremely long. I have a wide hip yet a narrow waist and a wide bone structure. It is a lot of work to get this body into good shape, but at the same time there is a huge potential if it is done properly. Your physical condition is very important but so is the technique of doing exercises. Even minor wrong movements will multiply on my tall body, and there is always a significant stress hitting my joints muscles and bones if I perform the movements incorrectly.

I have learned to listen carefully to my body these past few years. There are often clear warning signs that I feel, and I have to be careful and ready to change something if the warnings last too long.  Two years ago when I started my training season with a new coach I ignored some of these signs because the training style was so different. I needed to see if it would work more effectively without trying to change it too much. Everything was fine enough in the early 2017 indoor season, but I just did not feel ready to jump when I started competing. But it got better through the competitions and I managed to avoid injuries and ended up being 8th in European Indoor Championships after catching a bad flu between qualification and the finals.

My body felt strong but it was pushed quite to the edge at training doing April 2017. Suddenly my knee swelled and I had to go to surgery for the first time in my life. That made me wonder if I should have interfered more with the program when I had those warning signs. I went to surgery when I should have started my summer season. I did my rehab effectively and recovered, thanks to my good support group. I got in shape just in time for World Championships where I jumped almost 14m which unfortunately wasn’t enough to qualify for the Finals. I was very motivated. I knew that next year I can show what I am made of.

I had completed very little training a month before the World Championships and my shape was not the best but I still jumped close to 14m. If I work as hard the next year but listened to more my body and obey those warning signs, I knew that I would perform well the following summer.

So I started my training season. I had spent the last year learning my coach’s training methods so I knew what to expect. But for some reason the training system was completely different. We had talked about the program and agreed about it, but soon I realized that it was not what I thought we had agreed. I did my best, but my body could not keep up with the changes and soon those warning signs were flashing red.

There was so many new things and too little repetition. My long legs were very confused and then in pain. I tried to talk with my coach to tell him how I felt, and I asked him about the right movements and what muscles were needed to work on to better control my body. I was accustomed to doing basic training and repetition, but this year we skipped it. I thought it was a mistake but my coach asked me to be patient. I tried to prove myself that things are going to work.

In the end of December 2018, we had a few days of testing. There, at the physio check up, I heard news about my body that were not encouraging and they matched the feelings. I had compensated in my training with the wrong muscles and that had led to severe stiffness and a lack of important movements. The next day I preformed the worst test results ever, and the only good thing was that my coach realized that change was needed. The next question was – what should be changed?

There was less than 2 months until the start of a indoor season. My body, in that condition, was likely  to get injured if I had started to do high effort jumps. I had had a really shattered training season but I had done something and I was still in one piece. I thought that now we just need to fix the problems and do simple things to get back better control over my body. There was a chance that I might need to skip the indoor season if I ran out of time.

I asked my coach to keep the training sessions simple. We agreed also that I had to be very firm and ready to stop a session when I felt I could not do correctly or if it did not seem to work. I had 2 weeks training in Tenerife to fix the problem and then we could decide about indoor season.

I worked the first week alone after which my coach would join me in Tenerife. After few days under the sun I realized I could not follow the planned program. Since my coach was not there, I planned the program myself. He supported me but I felt that I had taken a huge responsibility. There was only myself to blame if this would not work.

I kept everything simple and it started to work! I spend quite a lot of energy thinking about details, knowing that if I do it properly now then I don’t need to worry about it later. Unfortunately my coach and I disagreed on many of the details and he said that I may be wasting my time.

After the last jumping session in Tenerife my coach told me that he didn’t want to coach me anymore as my individual coach. I was shocked. I knew we had had difficult few months, but I also felt that we were an the breaking point to find solutions. But he had made up his mind and there was nothing more to be done other than chancing it.

At first I was confused, and didn’t know what to think. But after a few days I felt happy with the training and I realized that the decision was right. I had done the program myself for the past two weeks and it seemed to work. I could survive the indoor season by myself, but then I would have  to find new coach.

A weaker person would have thought that this was it for the year and for the indoor season, but I just grew stronger, and now i am heading for the World Indoor Championships this week (March #rd.) and that is a proof that I never give up no matter how bad the situation is!

Unfortunately the coach market in Finland is too small. The problem is that the ones who have what it takes to be professional coach don’t get paid, or paid enough, to make living out of it. My problem will be that I did not have a planned budget to pay full salary for a coach since my previous one was A Team Finland coach. The Federation took care of his salary so I did not need to find money for it. I already know a person I want to work with but now I need to find the money so that he can coach me with that 100% those Olympian needs!

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