June 11, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Jussi Kanervo has developed into one of the top hurdlers in the nation. The native of Finland hopes to represent his country next summer in the 2016 Olympics, but before he can do that, the rising junior on the South Carolina track and field team must return home for mandatory military service for the upcoming fall semester and is expected to finish his service on December 30.
"It's not optional, everybody has to do it," Kanervo said. "I wanted to be in the Air Force, but all of the athletes will be in the Army. I will be trained as some kind of scout. It's eight weeks of basic training, and then I have advanced training for a month. It will be a different kind of training, but I think it will be good for me."
Finland requires military service for all men after their 18th birthday for a minimum duration of five and half months. Military service can be started after turning 18, and can be postponed due to studies, work or other personal reasons until the age of 28. Kanervo, now 22 years old, opted to delay his service initially until after his collegiate career was over in order to develop his athletics talents while studying business management at South Carolina, but an upcoming change to the service requirement caused him to alter his plans.
"Starting on January 1, 2016, everybody will have to do 12 months of service," Kanervo said. "I'm part of the last group who will get out after a few months, so I'll do it now. The rule changed a week after I signed my papers to go to school. I'm really satisfied that I will be able to do it now because that year is an Olympic year, and I have a chance to make the Olympic team."
I've heard that some kids grow a lot mentally in the military. For some people, it's hard to be away from home. Having lived for two years here, I think that will help me.
Kanervo earned second team All-American honors for this year's indoor season in the 60 meter hurdles, after earning honorable mention All-American honors last season in the outdoor season for the 400 meter hurdles. In addition to helping the Gamecocks succeed on the track, Kanervo ultimately has his sights set on qualifying for the Olympics, and he feels that South Carolina has helped him keep that goal within reach.
"I came here as a 110 meter hurdler," Kanervo said. "Coach (Curtis) Frye made me run the 400 meter hurdles, which ended up being much better for me. In that sense, he changed the event and now I've run a 49.7, and 49.4 seconds is the qualification time for the Olympics. So I am this close."
While he is doing his part and serving in the military this fall, Kanervo hopes to still prepare himself for track season in the spring.
"After the training, I will have to serve from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. each day," Kanervo said. "After that I will be able to do more of what I want at least in the last month. That will basically be track practice."
One aspect of his current everyday life he will miss the most is speaking English, and when he eventually earns his degree from South Carolina, he hopes to stay in the United States. For now, because serving in the military is a part of life for all Finnish males, Kanervo is not nervous or apprehensive about the upcoming commitment to his country.
"Russia invaded the Ukraine, and Finland is right next to Russia, but I'm not concerned," Kanervo said. "I will do whatever they tell me to do, then I'll come back here."
While current American students may find the requirement strange because most aren't old enough to remember a draft into the United States military, Kanervo is accustomed to a regimented schedule as a student-athlete and is confident he will transition well.
"I've heard that some kids grow a lot mentally in the military," Kanervo said. "For some people, it's hard to be away from home. Having lived for two years here, I think that will help me."
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