Next Generation team going strong towards the summer Olympics

The Sonera Next Generation team of athletes is proceeding successfully towards the Beijing Olympics. Of the 23 athletes in the NG team, five have already qualified or earned a country slot to the Games. The sponsorship model launched in 2003 to support talented athletes aims at promoting not only their success in sports but also their growth into elite athletes.

The project is based on captains selected from athletes and yachtsmen, and their own junior teams. The idea is that the captains make their experience and extensive network of experts available to young athletes and people around them.

The athletes of the Next Generation team who have already qualified for the Beijing Olympics are the sprinters Visa Hongisto (200m, qualification standard A) and Johanna Manninen (100m, qualification standard A). In addition, Johanna Manninen and Sari Keskitalo have sped Finland closer to the Olympics in women’s sprint relay (Finland holds position no. 11 in the ranking list, while the best 16 teams will qualify for the Olympics). Sari Multala (Laser Radial) and Tapio Nirkko (Finn), in turn, have earned Finland a country slot in sailing.

“At best, the athletes of the NG team can form up to ten percent of the Finnish Olympic team. During the past five years, some of the young athletes have made it to the international elite at senior level, even surpassing their captains in a few cases. A great thing about Next Generation is, however, that the sponsor stands behind the athletes no matter whether they succeed or not. Long-standing support, for better or for worse, is crucial to the athlete and to success,” says Mika Lehtimäki, project manager of the Next Generation team.

Next Generation provides comprehensive support for the athlete

“Together with the athletes, we have wanted to create a cooperation model that supports sports, promotes spiritual growth, and adds to the expertise of the support network, helping the athlete to make it to the top. To Sonera, this has been a next-generation sports sponsorship project that has grown into an interactive initiative showing corporate social responsibility and creating a sense of community,” says Esa Rautalinko, President of TeliaSonera Finland.

The team consists of five sport-specific captains and their junior teams of top talents. The athletes have shared their experiences and thoughts for instance during common events and camps but, above all, through an active and analytical network.

“Sense of community may sound surprising in connection with individual sports and their sponsorship. However, we have experienced it in practice – as a well-functioning exchange of ideas and as a team spirit between individuals and their support teams,” says Katariina Ikävalko, who is responsible for the project at TeliaSonera.

The young talents have been piloted by experienced captains: Sari Multala (sailing), Johanna Manninen (sprint), Markus Pöyhönen (sprint), Jaakko Ojaniemi (decathlon) and Heli Koivula (triple jump / long jump). Heli has continued to serve as the captain of her network even after ending her own career.

New web pages opened

To read about the background of the project and the athletes involved, you can visit the newly revamped Next Generation web site at (in Finnish only).

Under “Kuulumisia” (“News and moods”), you can read about the athletes’ thoughts during the spring and summer. The present articles include, for example, Visa Hongisto’s comments on a camp in Portugal and Johanna Manninen’s experiences in the world of tattoos.

For further information journalists can contact:

Development Manager Katariina Ikävalko, +358 40 581 2315,