By Craig Kartchner
Although, not a Finn by birth, Steve Broadbent, 23, from Houston, majoring in Chemical Engineering, considers himself one at heart.
“I consider myself either a Finnish American or an American Finn,” he said.
Many others share the sentiment.
So closely tied are these would-be Finns to Finland that the Finnish Olympic Committee included them in a welcome dinner program.
Jussi Kemppainen is here assisting the Finnish Olympic Committee.
Tarja Halonen, president of Finland, other important delegates of the Scandinavian country and athletes competing from Finland will be welcomed to Salt Lake with the program, Kemppainen said.
Due to security issues the date and location of the dinner for the Finnish president cannot be revealed, he said.
Mark de St. Aubin, a returned Finnish missionary from Salt Lake, said about 70 ”American Finns” will sing a sacred Finnish hymn, “Finlandia,” as the finale act in a musical program developed for the dinner event.
All participants, who will sing the anthem are return missionaries from Finland, some dating back as far as 50 years, said de St. Aubin, who is also directing the chorus.
“It”s an exciting experience. We”re rooting for Finnish athletes as much as Americans because Finland is our second home,” he said.
Matt MacKay, 22, from Del Mar, Calif., majoring in Social Science Teaching, said any mistakes or shoddy accents could be offensive.
“That”s why it was important to pick good singers for the choir. We were worried about the accents of those who have been home for a long time,” McKay said.
Kemppainen said the anthem is sacred to the Fins because of its deep symbolism and it describes the history of the nation.
The quality of the choir must be impeccable. Kemppainen will ultimately decide if the singing of “Finlandia” is good enough to include in the banquet program, he said.
“You don”t just sing Finlandia,” Kemppainen said. “You live it. You have to put your soul into it and understand the story of a nation to sing it properly.”
The return-missionary choir is coming along nicely and will most likely be prepared for the finale number at the banquet, he said.
Liina Hynynen, 23, from Boston, majoring in English, said the “Finlandia” anthem brings a lot of strong emotions.
“I hope the delegates in attendance will feel the spirit of the games and the spirit of the gospel as they listen to the missionaries singing,” she said.
Ruska Junkkari, 21, from Helsinki, Finland, majoring in Media Arts said Finland is a fairly large country geographically, but much of it is uninhabitable.
The population is roughly five million, only five thousand of whom are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
With such a small population, and relatively long church missionary history, (since 1947), the LDS missionaries are fairly well known in Finland, Junkkari said.
“Finns” opinion might be neutral or negative about the missionaries. But probably 50 percent of the population has heard about the Church. The choir will be well received,” Junkkari said.
Ninety percent of the population is Lutheran, which is the official church in Finland. But apathy and atheism have plagued Fins for decades.
“I don”t know if [President Tarja Halonen] knows anything about the Church or why there are Fins in Provo,” Junkkari said.
Nevertheless, Broadbent said those singing for the Finnish competitors feel it”s an honor to wish them good luck by singing the anthem.
The Finnish hockey and cross-country skiing teams are medal contenders Broadbent said. All the Finnish athletes will make a great impression.
“I hope we can help make their Olympic experience as incredible and unique as possible,” he said.