After swimming and living around the world, Tuomas Pokkinen excels with Gophers

Pokkinen said he learned to swim when he and his family lived in Southeast Asia.

Erik Nelson

Some college students choose the college or university they want to attend well in advance. This wasn’t the case for sophomore Tuomas Pokkinen.

Pokkinen, who is from Espoo, Finland, never traveled to the United States to visit colleges. He said he used Google for most of his research on the University of Minnesota. He was also older than most college freshmen.

“I was pretty late in my recruiting process. Minnesota [has] a good balance of academics and athletics,” Pokkinen said. “A lot of foreigners make their decisions like, ‘Oh, it’s warm there. I’m going to go there.’ In Minnesota, you actually get a good school, which is something that I value.”

Last season, Pokkinen placed first in the 200-yard freestyle at the Minnesota Challenge, recording a time of 1:39.28. He was an All-American honorable mention in 2016-17. In 2014 and 2015, he was a two-time Finnish national champion in the 100-yard individual medley.

Associate head coach Gideon Louw said it was a no-brainer to recruit Pokkinen after he expressed interest in Minnesota.

“Not only is he a very talented and accomplished swimmer, but he was and continues to be a standout student,” Louw said. “His teammates hold him in high regard, and he sets an exemplary standard of dedication to excellence in and out of the pool.”

Pokkinen learned to swim when he and his family lived in Hong Kong and Malaysia. His parents later put him on a school team.

Pokkinen swam in individual medley competitions when he was young.

“A lot of my strokes were strong, except backstroke,” Pokkinen said. “Butterfly just started standing out when I was 15 or 16 years old.”

 Pokkinen will swim in butterfly events this season. Louw said Pokkinen is a mindful swimmer who knows how to swim to his strengths.

“He is a very skilled butterfly and freestyle swimmer with a lot of strength and power through the water, and he does a great job of maintaining that through his races,” Louw said.

There are a variety of differences in customs and culture between Finland and Minnesota. Pokkinen said Finnish people are very quiet and like to have personal space.

“I was actually annoyed by people every time they saw me, asking me, ‘how are you?’ You obviously don’t expect an answer for it,” Pokkinen said. “If you were to ask a Finnish person in Finland, ‘how are you?,’ you would actually expect an answer. [In the United States,] the answer is ‘good.'”

Louw says Pokkinen needs to improve on his turns, but the coaching staff hopes he will continues to develop as a swimmer.

“From day one, he stepped confidently into key roles on the team that we needed him to fill,” Louw said. “We are really excited to see where his continued growth as a student athlete will lead him.”