Tomi Poikolainen’s international archery career spanned three decades, from 1976 until 2000, and five Olympic Games, from 1980 to 1996. The high point was, without a doubt, his Olympic debut in 1980.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Games in Moscow.
The Olympics were held amid international tensions that saw them boycotted by the USA and other nations. However, Finland was among those that attended and Tomi, aged 18, was part of the archery team.
After two days of competition, he sat in fifth.
“He was not considered the main rival. His rapid ascent took place on the third day of competition, and after 50 metres his result was already causing concern,” remembers Boris Isachenko, who was representing the host Soviet Union at the event.
The Games were decided on what would now be two 1440 Rounds – then called the double FITA – or 288 arrows over 90, 70, 50 and 30 metres, shot over four days.
By the time the tournament had gotten to the last distance on the last day, the rain had closed in. Tomi held his nerve, finished the event with 2455 in total, holding off a late surge from Isachenko to take the Olympic title by three points.
To this day, he remains Finland’s youngest champion at a summer Games.
Moscow was the third Olympics since archery’s return to the programme in 1972. Tomi’s win brought the only non-USA men’s champion in the first five editions.
Returning to the Games in 1984, Pokolainen placed fifth, and he followed that up with 11th in Seoul in 1988 – completing an impressive run of results at his first three Olympics.
In 1992, he was beaten by the returning champion from 1988, Jay Barrs, in the first round but took a silver medal in the team event with Jari Lipponen and Ismo Falck.
“I wasn’t happy to draw him in the first round in Barcelona because I was hoping for an easier match,” says Barrs.
“He was a great shooter and a tough competitor. He was also the only guy I ever saw shooting with two main stabiliser rods. Weird looking set-up but it worked for him.”
While he never won a world title, Poikolainen did collect two team silvers and an individual bronze at World Archery Championships – and added eight at European championships, including gold in Izmir in 1986.
He shot a world record of 343 points at 70 metres in 1988.
The sport was not a full-time job for Tomi and he began working as a firefighter, which he still does now in his hometown of Hyvinkää, more than 35 years ago. But archery remains an integral part of the 58-year-old’s life.
“I met my wife, Jutta, at the archery field, of course. She was also in our national team and competed at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul,” he says. “We have five children and they all know how to shoot with a bow.”
And Tomi still shoots, both compound and (mostly) recurve, every week, alongside running a small archery side business.
“I don’t get as many 10s nowadays but it’s fun and I really enjoy shooting,” he says. “I will probably celebrate the 40th anniversary [of Moscow] by shooting a competition.”
Poikolainen returned to the city of his Olympic triumph at the end of 2019 when he visited last year’s Hyundai Archery World Cup Final in the Russian capital.
“Moscow World Cup Final was magnificent. I think World Archery has done a great job developing archery and the competition format. It has changed so much from my time and in a much better direction,” he says.
Having started archery when he was 11 years old, there are not many archers so decorated who have witnessed first-hand so much of the history of the sport… and who are still practising and competing to this day.
His achievements are well recognised in Finland.
In 2017, Tomi was made a knight of the first class in the Order of the Lion of Finland by the country’s president. He received the Finnish pro sports award in 2009 and was inducted into the Finnish Sports Hall of Fame in 2017.
And last year, Tomi became a grandfather for the first time.