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'The Knitting Finns': For Finnish Athletes, Needles And Yarn Are Part Of The Olympic Routine

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Here's some other Olympic news. Olympic athletes have a range of strategies to help calm their nerves in the ultra-high-pressure competition. Some nap, others meditate or use visualization techniques, but the Olympic team from Finland has its own unique way of calming the jitters, as NPR's Melissa Block found out.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: How do you say knitting in Finnish?

ANTTI KOSKINEN: (Speaking in Finnish).

BLOCK: (Speaking in Finnish).

KOSKINEN: (Speaking in Finnish).

BLOCK: (Speaking in Finnish). That's a nice word.

KOSKINEN: Thank you.

BLOCK: Call them the knitting Finns. Among them, the team's head snowboarding coach...

KOSKINEN: Antti Koskinen.

BLOCK: ...And a ski jumper...

EETU NOUSIAINEN: Eetu Nousiainen.

BLOCK: ...Who's knitting a black and white striped piece at the moment.

NOUSIAINEN: It calms me down, yeah.

BLOCK: Nousiainen knits in his room at the athletes village, but you'll find Coach Koskinen standing with needles and yarn in hand here...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BLOCK: ...At the top of the halfpipe are slopestyle course, knitting during competition. He swears it's relaxing.

KOSKINEN: You have to concentrate on that, and it's a repetitive motion. It's a good focusing point. It feels a little meditating, as well.

BLOCK: Koskinen shows me the piece he's working on, a navy-blue rectangle about the size of a cellphone. It was supposed to be a square.

KOSKINEN: As you can see, I overshot mine.

BLOCK: It's a little wobbly, I think.

KOSKINEN: It is a little wobbly. There's been a couple other, you know, mishaps, but I don't mind. I mean, it's a living, breathing thing kind of that goes on. I'm freestyling here.

BLOCK: And Koskinen points out that laidback, freestyle attitude fits his sport well.

KOSKINEN: Us snowboarders, we tend to take things not so seriously. But you can definitely tell that, you know, things tense up a little when we get closer to the games. And we're trying to turn that frown upside down as you guys say.

BLOCK: Koskinen tells me this Team Finland knitting thing started four years ago at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. It continued in the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, and now here. After all, knitting is a strong Finnish tradition.

KOSKINEN: A lot of grandmas in Finland knit. And we always get a lot of woolen socks for Christmas.

BLOCK: About 50 Olympic athletes from Finland are busy knitting small square patches, and then...

KOSKINEN: And then we combine them into one big blanket for our president's newborn son.

BLOCK: An Olympic gift for...

NOUSIAINEN: Sauli Niinisto.

BLOCK: ...The president of Finland. Melissa Block, NPR News, Pyeongchang. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.