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Top level line up of foreign athletes proves that Pajulahti Games is coming of age

Istumalentopalloa: Suomi-Venäjä

For the seventh time already, the Pajulahti Games will be arranged in the Pajulahti Sports Institute in Lahti, Finland on 20–22 of January 2017. There will be seven sports: goalball, sitting volleyball, showdown, wheelchair rugby, powerlifting, judo and athletics.

There will be approximately 350 participants from 16 countries in the Pajulahti Games. International tournaments will be played in goalball, sitting volleyball and showdown. In wheelchair rugby there will be a Finnish national league tournament, in judo there’s a tournament for athletes with intellectual disabilities and both in powerlifting and (indoor) athletics there will be open Finnish national championships.

As in previous years the sitting volleyball tournament is for women’s national teams. Hosts will meet Russia, Netherlands, Great Britain and Hungary.

– It’s great that world class teams such as Russia and Netherlands are coming back here every year. It tells that the Pajulahti Games is an established part of the yearly tournament calendar. The teams know that there will be a well organised event, says Timo Väre, a head coach of Finnish women’s sitting volleyball team.

Väre won’t be expecting any surprise results from the Finns this year as two experienced players, Annukka Jäätteenmäki and Anne Mäki have stepped aside from the national team.

Dressed rehearsal for the Euros in goalball

Heikki Juvonen

In goalball there will be some extra electricity in this year’s tournament, because the IBSA goalball European Championships will be played in the same location on 15–23 of September. In men’s tournament the Paralympic gold medallists Lithuania, Paralympic semi finalist Sweden and quarter finalist Germany together with always tough home side will make sure that there will be some world class matches in the Pajulahti Games.

Russia is the number one favourite to win the women’s goalball tournament. They would have been medal candidates in the Rio Paralympics as well, but the IPC decided to ban all Russian athletes from the Games due to the doping ambiguities. One of the most interesting things in the 2017 Pajulahti Games is to see the Russian women’s goalball and sitting volleyball teams in action as they are still banned from the IPC.

Finnish women’s goalball team won’t be getting their best roster to the Pajulahti Games as one of the key players Iida Kauppila is missing due injury. Young Miina Grönroos will make her national team debut. Besides Russia, Finland will meet Israel, Great Britain and Spain.

– I think it’s a good mix of different teams for us at this point. Two very tough teams Russia and Israel that we have to fight hard to do well. Then Great Britain, which I see as a rising star in women’s goalball, and Spain, which might be bit lighter opponent compared to others, says Heikki Juvonen, a head coach of Finnish women’s team. 

Finns defending their reign in showdown

Juha Oikarainen

The showdown tournament of the Pajulahti Games has traditionally gone in Finnish command. Hanna Vilmi has won all six tournaments played so far in Pajulahti. In men’s tournament the title has slipped once from the Finns. Ari Lahtinen has won two previous tournaments and before that Juha Oikarainen won three times.

– It seems we have quite a good match up this time. I’m definitely seeking for a revenge if I get to play against Polish Krystian Kisiel who beat me in the bronze match of the 2016 European Championships, Oikarainen tells.

– And of course since I have won here three times, I’m doing the best I can to prevent Ari from matching my achievement, he continues.

Experienced Oikarainen used to be one of the World’s best goalball players in the 90s and after he changed sports to showdown he has made his way to the top ten.

– To win a championship gold medal in showdown, that’s the goal of my career. I’ve already been quite near but haven’t been able to make it yet. All the other top players I’ve managed to beat at least once in my career so I know it is possible, Oikarainen says.

Schedule of the Pajulahti Games 2017 can be found HERE