“The best thing an athlete can imagine is to compete in the World Championships at home. This is really big and I’m really excited to compete in front of the home crowd with my family and friends watching. It’s also going to be really important for Pyha."
Para snowboard has given Matti Suur-Hamari a lot of fun but for the current Paralympic and world champion there is nothing compared to what is yet to come in March next year.
“The best thing an athlete can imagine is to compete in the World Championships at home. This is really big and I’m really excited to compete in front of the home crowd with my family and friends watching. It’s also going to be really important for Pyha,” he says.
This is not the Finn’s hometown but it could easily be. Suur-Hamari lives a two-hour drive away from Pyha in the Lapland region and spends a considerable part of his year in the resort that in addition to the Worlds will also host the season’s third World Cup from Friday (30 November).
It will also be the season’s first World Cup with snowboard-cross events. This is Suur-Hamari’s speciality with two World Championships titles and the gold medal at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games to his name.
“I’m excited to see where everybody is after the summer. I’ve been in Pyha for a week now and I’ve seen some of the guys doing really well. I’m looking forward to being in the starting gate.
“I come here since my first training camp back in 2013. It’s been a really good resort, training-wise they always build what we need,” he adds.
Suur-Hamari says the place hosting the snowboarders this week will look quite different when they return for the Worlds in four months’ time. But, as a proud Finn, he assures it will not be less impressive.
“Late March is the most beautiful time in Lapland, hopefully it will be plenty of snow. The sun is shining and it is the start of the spring season.
“Now it’s the time Finnish people call kaamos, just a couple of hours of daylight. It’s a little bit darker but it’s also beautiful as it’s possible to see the Northern Lights. In Finland that’s the exciting thing, nature is changing a lot during the months.”
A lot has also changed for the rider this year. When the 32-year-old returned from PyeongChang with a gold and a bronze medal his routine completely changed. Finland had not reached the top of the podium at the Paralympic Winter Games since Salt Lake City in 2002.
“It was quite busy when I went back home after the Games. It was a month and a half going from interview to interview, all sponsors wanted to celebrate my medals. It was crazy.
“I felt really tired after that because I had worked hard during four years. But I was hoping one day things would be exactly like they were when I came back from the Paralympic Games.”
Since then, Suur-Hamari finally had the chance to take some time-off although his “relaxing moments” included a bike trip from the Netherlands to Switzerland in the summer.
Now it is serious business again but in a different way.
“I’m training hard again but not like in the last four years. I feel surprisingly good at training and I’m not putting pressure on myself at the moment. I’m just super excited to be back to the starting gate.”