The first ever Gliding Olympics in Finland were one of the victims of WW II
Very few visitors to VGC’s events in Finland this summer are probably aware, that this rather remote gliding country was 76 years ago close to organizing a truly unique event: the first Olympic gliding contest ever.
It never happened. Gliding was supposed to be a part of 1940 Helsinki Summer Olympics. Quite a few venues, including the site for the gliding contest, were built and the enthusiasm ran really high.
But everything came to abrupt and tragic stop in the fall of 1939. On November 30th the Soviet Union attacked Finland and started a 105 days long Winter War. After that the world plunged into the Second World War and the Helsinki Olympics, including the first Gliding Olympics, were promptly cancelled.
Helsinki got her Olympics after WW II in the summer of 1952, but without gliding. It never reappeared as an Olympic sport.
Gliding had been an exhibition event already in the Berlin Games of 1936. Germany, the home of modern gliding, lobbied hard for this sport to be included in the official programme and succeeded.
In 1938 the International Olympic Committee IOC decided that gliding was to be a part of the 1940 summer olympics. The medals were supposed to be awarded based on 14 days of flying in July – August time period.
It was obvious that gliding contest could not be held in Helsinki. There was no suitable airfield in the vicinity and The Daughter of the Baltic – as Helsinki is often called – is too close to the sea to offer decent weather conditions. The obvious choice was Jämijärvi.
The site had been found a few years earlier in a public contest sponsored by Suomen Kuvalehti which was (and still is) one of the most prestigious weekly newsmagazines in Finland. The idea of the contest was to find a site which would geographically and weatherwise be ideal for the training method of the day, bungee launches.
Jämi, some 100 kms due North from Oripää and 100 kms NW from Räyskälä, met both requirements. There is a hill, not an impressive one in the eyes of southerners, but a hill anyway. And the terrain is as good for thermal activity as any in this country, heather growing, dry moorland. The new site opened for training courses in the summer of 1935.
The Olympics held a huge promise for Jämijärvi and the whole of Finnish gliding. Never before (or after) has the state been so generous in sponsoring gliding in Finland. New roads and bridges were built and numerous new buildings erected. The Olympics seemed to be everywhere a full year before the scheduled event.
The Finnish national team of 20 top pilots practised for a whole month. Thanks to the state, their equipment was top-notch. Five new gliders were purchased including a Kranich two-seater, a very high-performance Weihe and three Olympias ie. the gliders that were supposed to be flown in the actual Olympic competition.
In August 1939 a prestigious guest from Germany checked the state of the preparations. The gliding member of the German Olympic Committee (yes, there really was one) Herr Josef Kunz was very happy with what he saw, and ”overwhelmed by the beauty of the Finnish landscape”, as the Finnish aviation magazine Aero reported.
The facts in this article are from Aero, which is published still today under a new title Ilmailu (aviation in Finnish), and the history of the Finnish Aeronautical Association, written by Mikko Uola.
Kunz also reported about the state of gliding in his home country stressing how hugely important the chief of the German air force Hermann Göring held the sport of gliding. At that time there were more than 60 000 licensed glider pilots in Germany.
There were umpteen small and big problems to be solved before the first gliding Olympics could ger under way. From the beginning it was clear that all the pilots would fly the same type of glider. The international design contest ended with a clear victory of DFS Meise from Germany. It was promptly renamed Olympia.
The organizers also had to wrestle with the problem of amateurism. The Olympic Games were then reserved strictly for amateurs, which is hard to believe watching the running, jumping and throwing millionaires of today’s money-soaked Olympic Games.
All the efforts were in vain. The Olympic flag was never hoisted at Jämi.
The site, however, stayed and played a crucial part in the post-war gliding of Finland. The instructors were trained at Jämi, which also was the home of the glider construction activity of Finland. The PIK-16 Vasamas and PIK-20’s saw the daylight and were built at Jämi.
There was a slow period after the instructor training activities were moved to Räyskälä but Jämi lives and even gliding is growing on this unique site once again.
Written by: Jyri Raivio