Sampo Hynynen remembers pitching in his baseball league championship game as a fourth-grade boy. The game’s announcers spoke of Hynynen as a leading candidate for MVP after allowing just one run through the first four innings of the game.
The assistant coach’s son, another boy on the team, cried about not getting the chance to pitch before the next inning. Hynynen was pulled from the game in favor of the coach’s son. The relief pitcher surrendered nine runs over the next two innings and Hynynen was no longer a candidate for the MVP award.
Even as a child, Hynynen, an electrical engineering major at BYU, had a deep passion for sports and just about anything else he participated in. That passion and competitive nature has driven him to become one of the most intelligent and capable individuals on BYU’s campus, but it also leaves him wanting more in any area of his life that’s lacking.
The Finnish American from Medfield, Mass., lacks no credentials for his intellect. In his youth he collected numerous victories at math competitions and even set school records for his performances along the way. Upon applying for further education, Hynynen impressed universities nationwide by achieving a perfect score on his SAT and perfect scores in physics and calculus on the SAT II test.
Hynynen’s intellectual prowess might be expected considering his upbringing. His father, a leader in the fields of cancer and ultrasound research, recently developed a helmet with the ability to target and destroy brain tumors. Time Magazine included the helmet in its recent list of top inventions. Hynynen’s sisters have gone on to become doctors and professors, setting a precedent of success for him. While his family is intelligent, Vilja Johnson, Hynynen’s sister and an English professor at BYU, suggested Sampo’s intellectual aptitude stands out even when compared to his siblings.
“In terms of pure intelligence, he is definitely the most intelligent in our family,” she said.
While Johnson praises Hynynen for developing an increased maturity level and social acumen since returning from his mission, she can still remember him as a little boy, running through the sprinklers. Johnson shared a story of her little brother plugging a watermelon seed into his belly button with a pinch of soil. Due to his frequent practice of running through the sprinklers with his shirt off, the seed received a sufficient amount of sunlight and water to sprout a vine before his mother found out and forced him to remove it.
“I think that little kid is still inside of Sampo,” Johnson said.
David Cramer, a roommate of Hynynen and an economics major at BYU, lived with Hynynen when Sampo broke what his roommates and friends call a “promise-swear.” A promise-swear usually involves a challenge from roommates and friends forcing someone to accomplish a task before a certain date. Hynynen failed to fulfill his task before the designated date.
“Everyone knows if you break a promise-swear you get spaghetti dumped on your head,” Cramer said.
Cramer and his roommates organized a party where attendees dumped more than 40 pounds of spaghetti on Hynynen’s head. Hynynen received the spaghetti while sitting in an old sink and only wearing cutoff jean shorts.
Hynynen’s competitive nature won’t allow him to back down from these promise-swears or other challenges called “brain battles.” Cramer said his roommates will randomly challenge Hynynen to a brain battle to test his intellect. In a brain battle, his roommates will approach him, ask a question and yell “brain battle!”
“You can get him to do just about anything by saying that he’s in a brain battle,” Cramer said. “Once you’ve said the words ‘brain battle,’ his pride makes it impossible for him to lose the brain battle. He’ll go to any length to establish his intellectual superiority after that.”
While his competitive nature is demonstrated in all aspects of his life, things step up a notch on the sports field. Hynynen played multiple sports in high school and had no greater passion growing up. While most returned missionaries lose a bit of athletic ability over the course of a mission, Hynynen returned from his mission bigger, faster and stronger than anyone could have anticipated. Previous to his mission, Hynynen never managed to bench press more than 155 pounds. He was able to bench press more than 250 pounds within a year of returning from his mission.
Hynynen’s intramural history includes playing on teams for soccer, basketball, flag football, dodgeball, racquetball, ultimate frisbee, inner tube water polo and softball. In these sports he has managed to make the final four of tournaments at least six times and has made it to the championship game twice. He has yet to win the championship game. While he has seen a lot of success, he wants more. He wants an intramural championship.
“It makes me hungrier, I absolutely want it more,” Hynynen said. “There is no way I could leave without getting one.”
Aaron Lewis, an intramural teammate of Hynynen and an economics major at BYU, testified of Hynynen’s desire to win.
“Sampo wants an intramural championship T-shirt more than anyone at BYU,” Lewis said.
Lewis said Hynynen would be willing to give up IQ points or even some of his extremities to see his sports goals accomplished. Hynynen confirmed Lewis’ statement.
“I’ll give up three of my toes to get an intramural T-shirt at this juncture,” Hynynen said.
Hynynen graduates in August and is running out of time to win a championship. Upon graduation, Hynynen and roommate Cramer will join Stephanie Lee, a neighbor of Hynynen, at Cornerstone Research. The three students will work as economic analysts for the company in Menlo Park, Calif. While Lee and Cramer are both majoring in economics, Hynynen decided to go into economic consulting after studying electrical engineering, a completely unrelated field. While many students spend years preparing for these interviews by practicing economic and business consulting cases, Hynynen practiced just a few cases prior to interviewing and was ready.
“He had his doubts that he was going to get an interview because he wasn’t an economics major … but I assured him they’d be inclined to look at him because he’s a genius,” Lee said.
With his intellect, Lee believes Hynynen has the tools to do just about anything.
“Sampo is probably capable of destroying or saving the world,” Lee said.