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Laura Lepistö Glides Into History

When the children of the Lepistö family were young they used to climb into bed with their parents on Sunday mornings.

One Sunday morning, at age 2, Laura Lepistö walked along her father’s leg like a gymnast on a beam without losing her balance. Her parents wondered if she might become a gymnast.

A year later Lepistö learned to ride a bike without training wheels. Her parents knew their daughter was destined for something great in the world of sport.

In the end, it was the sport of figure skating that stole Lepistö’s heart.

She received her first pair of skates at the age of 3, but was unable to take skating classes because she was too young. When she was finally allowed into the skating school with her older sister, the little girl was all smiles. As the others glided around on one foot and raised their arms up like ballerinas, Lepistö was happy to stand still with her arms above her head. “This is easy; I know this,” she recalled.

In her first competition at age 6, Lepistö finished last. That started the long and dynamic climb towards the top of the world.

In 2005 Lepistö’s thought her career might be over. A serious hip injury forced her to off the ice for four months. The skater who had made progress through the junior and novice classes at the same pace as her age mate and good friend, Kiira Korpi, felt she had hit the wall at full speed.

When the doctors added another 10 weeks to her time off the ice, the pain the young skater felt was beyond description. The Lepistö family decided to get a dog.

Lepistö finally recovered from the injury and was able to get back on the ice. The long break had had its effects, and she had to begin rebuilding her career virtually from scratch. “I learned to be patient and to listen to my body,” Lepistö said. “I pay attention to muscle care and physiotherapy in a very different way than before. Perfect days are rare. There’s always a tight muscle somewhere or the legs feel tired. I don’t let such feelings take over, as my goals are so clear in my mind. If I don’t have the strength now, I won’t have it in competitions either.”

Born and raised in Espoo, Lepistö’s training regime has included psychological training for years. Virpi Horttana has coached her since childhood, but Jukka Kataja has provided psychological support for several seasons.

Before a triple jump Lepistö repeats her cue words: “self-confidence, decisive, no safe bets.”

Lepistö has the reputation of practicing conscientiously. She always does everything, as the instructions dictate. But as she has learned, being conscientious offers an opportunity to enjoy the outcome of the work. ”I want to skate so that it feels good. There’s no point in doing this with a negative approach," she said. "I’ve had a tremendous drive for the sport ever since I was a kid.”

Lepistö said she enjoys the tough moments of competition, but the daily work also has its rewards. “I turn on a good piece of music and circle on the newly surfaced ice. Then I just let go and enjoy myself, and don’t focus on being an athlete,” she explained.

And all that hard work paid off on a wonderful Saturday evening in January, when Lepistö made history by becoming the first Finnish female to win a European title. It had been a long time since the Finns had such a reason to rejoice at Europeans: The last time a Finn won a European title was in 1995 when Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko danced to gold.

“It’s for moments like this that I skate for,” Lepistö acknowledged.

Rahkamo, the president of Finnish figure skating association, was equally delighted. “{it is] quite a tough group of ladies,” she noted.

And when Lepistö arrived home following her gold medal performance, her dog Siru ran to the door to meet her, wagging her white tail. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.