By Michael Mastarciyan
Santeri Paloniemi loves to bash things.
Mostly he loves bashing slalom gates - but when he's not ripping down alpine race courses, you can usually find him bashing hockey pucks - or even hockey players if he's having a bad day.
An extremely talented ice hockey player, Paloniemi played competitively at an elite level until the age of 14, before deciding to focus on his athletic talent on his other passion - ski racing.
The latest slalom wunderkind from Finland, a country known for its slalom stars, Paloniemi is hoping to be the next Palander or Poutiainen on alpine ski racing's grandest stage - the World Cup.
So far, the 18-year-old from Kuusamo is definitely on the right track. After making Finnish alpine racing history in March by winning gold in the slalom at the FIS Junior World Ski Championships in Roccaraso, Italy (no other male Finnish racer has done that - not even Finnish slalom legend Kalle Palander) beating out his nearest competitor by almost a second and a half, Paloniemi topped it off with a slalom gold at Finland's National Championships in April - again beating out his nearest competitor by almost a second and a half.
Busy preparing for the upcoming race season, Paloniemi took a little time out to talk about his career so far and few other things....
MM: Santeri you've had a lot of success in your young career so far in slalom, what is it about this discipline that you like so much?
SP: We have good conditions for slalom training here in Finland. We don´t have any big mountains here, but still we have slalom facilities you can train on that are as good as what the best World Cup slalom skiers have elsewhere. It keeps the motivation up when you know that you´re not losing to them because of the quality of training. Basically it´s just really fun to make a perfect slalom turn!
MM: You also race GS, but haven't had the same kind of success, is this something you'll be working more on or will you keep your focus on slalom?
SP: Slalom has always been number one for me and I haven’t trained GS so much so far, but it’s still a big part of my training program. I would like to have my first breakthrough in slalom and then hopefully in GS.
MM: How about speed events; can you see yourself racing in those at some point in your career?
SP: Downhill and Super-G are out of the question. I´m too scared to do those “men’s” disciplines!
MM: What about Combined or Super-Combined, are you interested in those events?
SP: Slalom, slalom, slalom and then we go for GS afterwards. Speed events are for other racers!
MM: Have you ever gotten any advice from Tanja Poutiainen or Kalle Palander? Were they your ski racing idols growing up?
SP: Kalle Palander was my idol when I was a kid. KP is from the same ski club as me and we’ve trained together a lot during the spring time when he trains with his dad. And for sure he’s given me some good advice and tips during these training sessions.
MM: Some people say kids can't be coached a parent, but we've seen Ivica and Janica Kostelic have amazing success, and they are coached by their Father Ante. You are coached by your Dad too, what's that relationship like?
SP: My father has been a big influence on my career so far and still continues to be one. For example, when I´m back at home up north we do slalom and dryland training together. We have a good father/son relationship and a good coach/athlete relationship as well.
MM: What's the best piece of advice you've been given related to ski racing and who gave it to you?
SP: That I learn something new whenever I get a chance to train and race with the best slalom racers in the world.
MM: What advice would you give a young skier coming up?
SP: You have to ski a lot. But also vary your training with all kinds of sport - and the most important thing is to have FUN during your sessions!
MM: If you could have dinner with any ski racer past or present - who would it be and what would you ask them?
SP: I’d rather go and have dinner with my friends and talk about other stuff. Skiing is always in my daily life.
MM: How exciting was it to win slalom gold at Junior Worlds in Italy?
SP: It was great and it felt really good. It was the second best thing in my career so far. My best win so far was when I won the PS-Cup (Northern Finland Cup) when I was racing in boys U10 year-old series.
MM: Big celebration after your win in Italy?
SP: Just a class of champagne with my team and then a 10-hour drive to Kranjska Gora for the World Cup.
MM: What's the most important thing you've learned so far in your racing career?
SP: You always need to get better. Development in skiing is an ongoing process and you always need to keep working on it.
MM: Ice hockey is a sport you are also interested in...how often do you play?
SP: Nowadays I don’t have as much time to plays as I used to. But I still play about 10 times a year and it’s always good fun!
MM: What is it about ice hockey that you like so much?
SP: Wrist shots and scoring coals.
MM: Do you have a favourite Finnish hockey team?
SP: TPS (Turku, Finland)
MM: Do you have a favourite NHL team?
SP: Pittsburgh Penguins
MM: Do you have a favourite NHL player?
SP: Sidney Crosby and Anssi Salmela who plays nowadays in KHL.
MM: I've hear you are quite the fishing enthusiast too...have you done much fishing in the off season this year?
SP: Not that much anymore – so I don’t have any good fishing stories to tell.
MM: What is it about fishing that you like so much?
SP: It’s nice way to spend time and just relax.
MM: What's the biggest fish you ever caught?
SP: 6kg pike
MM: Do you watch much TV? Any favourite shows?
SP: Not that much. Some TV series during camps. My favourite movie is Youngblood.
MM: What about The Dudesons - are you a fan?
SP: Not a fan of them.
MM: What have you been doing in your down time during the off season? Have you taken any exciting holidays?
SP: I will take holidays after I have real success! Now it’s time to train.
MM: How are preparations coming along for next season?
SP: Preparations have been good. We are on schedule and ready to fight for World Cup points!
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