The successful sports career of Olympic gold medalist Tapio Korjus was based on scientific research, and it was during his studies at the Faculty of Sport and Health Studies that such research opened up to him. Korjus’s career as the Director of Kuortane Olympic Training Center has also been characterised by a precise, systematic approach. His connection to Jyväskylä remains close since he is the chair of the board at KIHU Research Institute for Olympic Sports.
Korjus was born in Vehkalahti in Kymenlaakso and in his adolescence he participated in cross-country skiing, a sport which has long traditions in the region. His grandfather and father were skiing enthusiasts, so Tapio attended skiing competitions from age 7. He was a fan of Marjatta Kajosmaa, from the Vehkalahden Veikot sports club, who won Olympic medals in skiing.
Korjus studied at the Vuokatti Sport Academy and the Sotkamo sports high school, completing his matriculation examination in 1980. His options after the general upper secondary school were the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä or the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry at the University of Helsinki. Jyväskylä was a natural choice for the young athlete who had participated competitively in twelve different sports.
Because of back issues, Korjus dropped skiing in favour of the javelin at age 18. “In summertime I tried different sports and always did well in javelin,” Korjus says.
He remembers the Liikunta building and its surroundings as very inspiring – the sports facilities were good, the teachers were at the top of their game and Alvar Aalto’s architecture was uplifting. “Sports students had black Liikunta coats and we wore them proudly all the time, which maybe irritated other students a bit,” says Korjus.
“In many years, we arranged a sports evening show that was also broadcast on TV. I remember performing at least in the tap dance and folk dance groups in the show.”
The University of Jyväskylä inspired Tapio to combine studying and high-level sports. Thanks to good coaching and the continuous measurement of physical performance, Korjus’s training was based on a detailed plan, monitoring and science.
He wrote his master’s thesis about the biomechanics of throwing a javelin. He investigated how to strengthen the technique and physical characteristics required in the javelin throw. Korjus gathered his research data by examining the javelin’s departure angle and speed with the help of an electronic throwing gate, measuring, for example, electronic muscle activity in laboratory conditions. “This was an advantage I had over other javelin throwers at the time,” says Korjus.
“The groundwork for my Olympic gold medal was laid in the university’s reading room and measurement laboratory. Based on the measurements and resulting conclusions, my coach Leo Pusa and I were able to focus our training on exactly the right things.”
His development clearly showed in his results: four years later Korjus threw almost ninety meters. In 1987 he won his first men’s Finnish championship. The javelin model also changed at some point.
In 1988, the year of the Summer Olympics in Seoul, he graduated with a master’s in sport and health sciences and worked as a PE teacher in the Lapua general upper secondary school. Within the span of a year, Korjus had improved on his own record by as much as seven metres with the new javelin model. In the Olympics, his final throw was the winning one. It was also the last throw of the competition.
“Since the age of ten, I had focused on the last throw. I practiced shot-put by myself and mimicked the best shot-putters of that time. They always had to improve the result in the last round and I retained that idea in my later training.”
He ended his sports career the year after the gold medal. For the past thirty years, he has participated in the activities of the Kuortane Olympic Training Center. Currently, he is the director of the center. His relationship with the University of Jyväskylä has remained close. In 2000, Korjus was selected as the alumni of the year.
Korjus remains active in the development work of high-performance sports and serves in several related positions of trust. He has served in managerial positions in the Finnish Athletics Federation and as the chair of the National Sports Council. Currently, Korjus is the chair of the board at KIHU Research Institute for Olympic Sports. He sees that KIHU has an especially important role as a developer of sports coaching as well as a producer of expert services, research data for gaining a competitive edge, and new innovations.
“Research is part of high-performance sports. I would not be an Olympic winner without scientific research.”
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