[Updated] Final Glide: Markku Kuittinen, a Two Time World Champion

Markku Kuittinen in Omarama after last flight in World Championships (photo by Pekka Pulkkinen)

Markku Kuittinen in Omarama after last flight in World Championships (photo by Pekka Pulkkinen)

The Cafe is saddened to report the passing of Markku Kuittinen.  Markku was an eight time Finnish Champion, two  time World Champion (Benalla in 87 and Omarama in 95), and he finished 3rd in Austria Wiener Neustad (89).




The following obituary was provided by Antti Lehto


Markku Kuittinen 1948-2012

Markku Kuittinen, two-time standard class World Champion, passed away unexpectedly on the 21st of December 2012. He died in his sleep at home in Kouvola at the age of 64. He was born on the 15th of July 1948 near the city of Jyväskylä.

Markku Kuittinen was the first, and to date the only, Finn to win the World Championships in gliding. He won his first World Champion title in Benalla Australia in 1987 and his second in Omarama New Zealand in 1995. In addition to his two World Championship gold medals, he also won bronze medal in the 1989 World Championships in Wiener Neustadt Austria. Following his first World Champion title, he was awarded in Finland with the winter season national Key Athlete Award and later that year he ranked within the top ten in the "Athlete of the Year" nomination, both achievements are the best aviation sport has ever seen in Finland.
Besides his international success, Kuittinen also won eight Finnish championships, was awarded the Harmo Trophy twice (the Finnish Aeronautical Association´s most highly rated trophy) and won the Satakunta Cup (the best glider pilot´s cup) seven times. His climb of 7,650 metres in a CB cloud with a K-8b glider, which he flew in 1972, is still Finland´s absolute height record.

Looking back at Markku Kuittinen´s gliding career and life generally, the most important person in his life was his wife Marja-Liisa (Mallu). She obtained her gliding license even before Markku did, and they eventually met at the Wredeby airfield in the summer of 1966. Markku and Mallu became a close-knit team and were always seen together at gliding competitions ever since their first Finnish national championships in 1971. Later Mallu took a step back in her own flying and focused on helping and supporting her husband´s competition career. In those days, having a wife as a crew and helper was not very common. Mallu was very concerned and diligent in everything she did. She is remembered especially for her precise record-keeping of start and finish times at gliding competitions. In many cases, she would know the results of a competition day well before the official competition organisation did. Mallu´s input in her husband´s competition career was irreplaceable. Without Mallu´s support and helping hand, it would have been much more difficult for Markku to succeed the way he did. The couple got married in 1976 and had three children: Tuuli, born in 1977, Saana in 1979 and Jarno in 1984.

Markku´s and Mallu´s close teamwork also extended to their working life Markku´s father Tauno had founded a car battery maintenance company in Kouvola. The enterprise was passed onto Markku when he was still a young man in his late 20´s. His wife then joined the family business. Akkuhuolto M Kuittinen became their life´s work. Besides providing a means of living for the family, it also facilitated their joint hobby of gliding. The division of duties in the business was pretty much the same as in gliding: Mallu took care of the company´s administration and accounting and Markku performed all the practical and technical duties.

As a glider pilot Markku was a natural born talent. In addition to great flying skills, a glider pilot must be able to understand meteorology, comprehend the aeronautical and technical performance details of his glider as well as be a master of competition tactics. Markku handled all these in his own intuitive way. He did not approach the sport through theoretical schemes and formulas but instead purely intuitively based on his own experiences and views. Markku was a very determined and strong-willed person, but at the same time he was modest, helpful and friendly, never one for making much of a number of himself even after his greatest successes.

Markku got off to a flying start right at the beginning of his international career during the World Championships in Räyskälä in 1976. He won the first day of the competition and was third on the second day. However, the following days of the competition were not as successful, so his final ranking proved modest. In the 1983 World Championships in Hobbs USA he was again able to climb to the top of the score sheet, but his dreams of winning a medal were crushed after an outlanding on the last day of the competition. Markku was able to turn these two significant setbacks to his advantage, and soon learned to become a winner. Since then he never once gave up his leading position in World Championships.

In most sports the athletic skills of top competitors are much the same, and it is the mental strength that determines who is the winner. This is true in gliding too. Markku won all his World Championship medals in relatively exotic places for a Finn: in the Australian outback and in the mountains of New Zealand and in Austria. The ease with which he embraced and adjusted to these difficult conditions reflects how gifted and courageous he was.

Markku´s strong will-power and determination was clearly manifest in times of hardship. During the practice week of the 1989 World Championships in Austria, there was a fire in his home in Finland and the house was severely damaged. Markku made a quick round trip back home to check the damage and promptly returned to take part in the competition, determined not to allow the episode hamper his concentration. The family had to endure another trial in the late 1990´s, when their house was burgled, and, along with other valuables, Markku´s hard-earned and cherished World Championship medals were stolen. It seems they were never recovered.

After his second World Champion title, Markku´s tight competition schedule began to ease up, and the last time he represented Finland in the World Championships was in Mafikeng South Africa in 2001. After that he only took part in national competitions every now and then. With six grandchildren by now, Markku had found new meaning to his life and his enthusiasm for competitive gliding began to wane. In the national context, Markku represented the aeronautical association of Kouvola right from the start of his career, but competed using his own private gliders from the 1970´s onwards. His most recent purchase was a self-launching 18m glider acquired in 2010, with which he intended to continue his gliding hobby once his son Jarno took over the family business and he could retire.

The last years of Markku Kuittinen´s life were overshadowed by the sudden and untimely death of his wife Marja-Liisa. She passed away on the 22nd of May 2011, when her heart suddenly gave in. The loss of his beloved wife and life partner after more than four decades of shared history and experiences must have been so tremendous that Markku never recovered this loss.

Markku´s and Marja-Liisa´s shared life of seamless teamwork and remarkable achievements are in fact quite unparallelled in the Finnish sports community. Indeed, for this alone they deserve the greatest respect and honour. May their memory live strong and warm in the hearts of those who knew them, and may their legacy be an example to future sports generations regardless of the discipline.

Antti Lehto
Finnish Gliding Team
Fellow glider pilot and Kuittinens´ friend since the 1970´s