2019-01-17 15:10:00 CET
The 26-year-old blocker is excited about her latest results, but she knows exactly where she wants to get
No beach volleyball player in Finland has accomplished more than Taru Lahti. The 26-year-old blocker has led her country to collect all of its three World Tour medals so far, but she’s far from done. As the 2019 season starts, Lahti sets her sights on the most coveted prize in the sport currently – Olympic qualification.
Lahti and her partner, 22-year-old Anniina Parkkinen, are enjoying a good run of form, which saw them win two international medals in the five tournaments they played at over the last six months. The latest one was arguably their biggest achievement so far, a bronze at the four-star event in The Hague in the first weekend of January.
“Our latest results were great and in the Hague it was very special because we beat several great teams in the tournament,” she told beachmajorseries.com. “I felt that we played at our best during the whole tournament. But this is not enough for us, we are hungry and we are working very hard every single day to improve our level.”
🥉🥉🥉 Bronze it is! What a week! Our TEAM 💎❤️ Loved every moment on the court with @anniinaparkkinen 🥰 @kaipe14 @mikko.hayrinen.9 made a good work to make this happen. Thank you❣️#delabeachopen #ansujataru #beachvolleyteamfinland @lahitapiola_lokaltapiola @urhea_fi @kisakallio @vantaankaupunki @2xu_suomi
816 Likes, 50 Comments - Taru Lahti-Liukkonen (@tarulaht) on Instagram: "🥉🥉🥉 Bronze it is! What a week! Our TEAM 💎❤️ Loved every moment on the court with @anniinaparkkinen..."
But it hasn’t always been a bed of roses for Lahti and Parkkinen, who played together at 2013 Under-22 European Championships and stepped on the podium together for the first time last July, when they won silver at the three-star World Tour event in Tokyo.
With different personalities, the players struggled to find the best way to communicate on the court and couldn’t get past the 17th place in each of their first seven tournaments in 2018 before they won the medal in Japan.
“We had several challenging moments during the summer,” Taru recalls. “We didn’t know how to support each other and we worked with a mental coach to fix it. Once we figured it out, I feel our game improved so much. I love playing with her and we know we have a good chance of beating some great teams, but we need to play and communicate well to do so.”
With their differences settled, the Finnish pair are indeed a competitive team on the World Tour. In the Hague, they earned victories over European champions Madelein Meppelink and Sanne Keizer of the Netherlands, USA’s Olympic medalist April Ross and her partner Alix Klineman and the up-and-coming Swiss duo of Tanja Hüberli and Nina Betschart.
They know that if they want to keep climbing the rankings in order to qualify to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, this is the level of the performance they will need to have. Lahti and Parkkinen are currently the 21st team in the Olympic rankings – just 15 teams qualify through it – with 1,040 points, but they played fewer tournaments than all other teams which are in front of them.
“The Olympics are our biggest goal and we know it’s going to be a hard road to get there,” she Taru. “We are doing our best and taking care of every detail, such as eating and sleeping well, but the most important thing to me is to enjoy our way there. To qualify Finland for the Olympics for the first time would be huge for our country and we hope it would help developing the sport in our country.”
But Lahti and Parkkinen are not alone on their journey. The players are supported by the Finnish Volleyball Federation and the country’s Olympic Committee, which provide them indoor and outdoor training facilities, as well as a comprehensive coaching staff, which is led by head coach Kaipe Liukkonen, who is Taru's husband, and counts on a physical coach, a psychologist, a scout, a physiotherapist, a nutrition coach and a masseur.
295 Likes, 1 Comments - Taru Lahti-Liukkonen (@tarulaht) on Instagram: "Shared joy is a quadruple joy 💦"
But sometimes the biggest help comes from players themselves. Lahti and Parkkinen travel the world with Finnish players Riikka Lehtonen and Niina Ahtiainen, who were their partners in the past and share the same dream. Technically, they are opponents, but the reality is far from that.
“We have a lot of fun together,” Lahti added. “We know that in the end of the day we are opponents, but we want to keep the good spirits. We are a small country and we feel that a good vibe benefits all of us, so we want to use every little help we can.”