Kalle Koljonen's sensational playing brought Finland our first European championship medal at end of last April. The achievement was historical - no Finnish player has ever accomplished the same result - and left Kalle himself speechless perhaps the first time in his career. But what does Kalle have to say now about the journey in Ukraine that led to the medal and his spot at the Olympic Games? Tapion Sulka's communications committee got in touch with Kalle in the middle of summer heat and asked a few questions about the medal and his plans for the future.
Kalle started his journey at the Europeans by defeating the Portuguese player, Bernando Atilano, in straight games 21-18, 21-7. Next on the line was the tournament's 7th seeded French player Toma Junior Popov, who was known to be a tough player to beat. Before the tournament Kalle was ranked nr 80 in the world and Popov on the other hand was ranked 42. Despite the odds and a tough opponent Kalle took home the win with a brilliant performance, winning 21-12, 21-17, and got himself a ticket to the quarter finals.
Kalle's thoughts: - Well, against the Portuguese player I was still trying to find my touch and feeling... I had a problem with my back a few weeks before the tournament and that's why I was still very careful in the first set of the first match of the tournament as I wasn't sure how my back would feel... When I noticed that it's totally fine, I put my foot on the gas pedal in the second set and it came home very easily.
-I was feeling very relaxed in the match against Popov. I was an underdog and I knew that Popov had his hopes quite high as he had had some successes during the tournaments leading up to the Europeans. In the first set I was much more ready and I won the set quite easily. Popov was more awake during the second set and I made a few easy mistakes... He was leading until 10-15 when I managed to win 8 points in a row! After that I kept the lead and won the match. Fun fact: if you hear Popov's coach (his father) shout instructions to him in Bulgarian and he is shouting back, then you know that his head is more or less gone.
In the quarter finals the level of the opponents got even higher and Kalle faced off with Rasmus Gemke from Denmark. He was seeded 3rd in the tournament and had a world ranking of 12 at the time. But Kalle had truly found his groove and got the win again in straight sets 21-15, 21-19. The win guaranteed a spot in the semifinals and the first individual championship medal for Finland in badminton history.
-Of course it was truly unbelievable that I had won a medal and even more so since it was the first in history for Finland! It's still a bit hard to believe... My match in the quarter finals was relaxed and I was having a good time on court (I have learned to enjoy the tight situations: the tighter the more fun I am having actually). I can't remember a lot from the last points from the game. I have watched videos from it where I saw that I lifted the shuttle and defended Gemke's attack with an okay defense shot and the next shot from Gemke went to the net... I guess I was in a "flow" mindset as I can't really remember much. After the match I wasn't thinking about the medal, I was still focusing on the task at hand, the tournament wasn't over yet and I still had to play the next day. It was only after my semifinal when arriving back to the hotel room and I layed down on the floor when it started to sink in what I had accomplished.
In the top four of the men's singles category there were 3 Danish players as expected: Viktor Axelsen, Anders Antonsen and Hans-Kristian Solberg Vittinghus. They were number one, two and four seeds in the tournament. Kalle on the other hand was unseeded and surprised everyone, including himself, by reaching the semifinals.
In the semifinal Kalle faced the second ranked player in the world, Denmark's Viktor Axelsen, who won the encounter 21-14, 21-14.
-In the semifinal my attitude was to have fun on the court again. It was a memorable moment when after the match Denmark's coach came to congratulate me on the medal and he said that the most absurd thing in the match was when we were introduced as the 2nd and the 80th in the world ranking. He said that my level didn't look like someone's whose ranking was 80 and that just made my day.
By achieving a bronze medal Kalle wrote his name in the history books and got himself a well-earned spot to the Olympic Games.
Kalle's thoughts: -I am looking forwards to the Olympics even though they won't be the same as usual (thanks to Covid). My goal is to be able to play at the same level as I was playing in the Europeans, and if I can manage that I think it would bring results. I haven't set any specific goals for the Games. I'll just play one game at the time. At the moment I am in Denmark preparing for the Games.
-Outside the court I am not sure what to expect from the experience as I am not sure what kind of arrangements there will be (in the Olympic village). I will get more information about that closer to the Games. After Tokyo my eyes are on the next season, hoping to have more normal traveling and competing experiences again after 1,5 years. I am especially looking forward to traveling without needing to quarantine.
Kalle also has some tips for the young players who are possibly dreaming to step onto the Olympic court themselves one day: -My advice for the youngsters is not to be so hard on yourselves when you face disappointments, usually nothing actually changes in life! A good sense of humor while playing brings out the best results!