Helsinki Sportsperson of the Year Lotta Kemppinen. Photo: Suomen Urheiluliitto

Distinguished Helsinki makers receive awards on Helsinki Day

Helsinki's "birthday" is being celebrated today on 12 June. King Gustav Vaasa founded the city on 12 June 1550, which means that this year we are celebrating a 471-year-old Helsinki. On Helsinki Day, the City of Helsinki presents awards to distinguished Helsinki residents. Helsinki medals, sports, culture, arts and science awards and the City of Helsinki's research grants were presented at a virtual Helsinki Day celebration at the City Hall. This year, for the first time, the awards event was available for live viewing via the Helsinki-kanava channel.

Due to the coronavirus epidemic, the Helsinki Day awards were presented through exceptional arrangements. Mayor Jan Vapaavuori and Deputy Mayors Pia Pakarinen, Nasima Razmyar, Anni Sinnemäki, and Sanna Vesikansa presented the awards at a live Helsinki Day celebration broadcast on the Helsinki-kanava channel, instead of the traditional invitational event.

"Helsinki Day has been celebrated again this year in exceptional circumstances, but, fortunately, it has also been possible for us to celebrate the birthday of our beloved capital city with special arrangements. In addition to Helsinki, we are also celebrating its makers today - those Helsinki residents who have been specially involved in building a better city. The recognitions shared today emphasise the commitment to developing the city as a place and as a community. We wish to thank, reward and encourage city residents to work forward now and in the future”, says Mayor Jan Vapaavuori.

Golden Helsinki medals for ten recipients

The golden Helsinki medals were awarded to ten distinguished citizens. The golden Helsinki medal is the highest recognition of the City of Helsinki, i.e. a kind of honorary citizenship. The City Board decides annually on the awarding of Helsinki medals and they are awarded in connection with Helsinki Day.

In 2021, the City of Helsinki awarded the following distinguished citizens:

Larri Helminen, coordinator of the Vetoa ja Voimaa Mellunkylään network and an active city activist, has actively promoted the development of the Mellunkylä area by organising a wide range of events and by coordinating cooperation with the residents, businesses and actors in the area, as well as with the City of Helsinki. Helminen has been a founder of the Vetoa ja Voimaa Mellunkylään network and has been the network's coordinator since 2014. For 15 years, he produced and organised Kontufestari, founded in 2003, which grew into one of the largest cultural events in Eastern Helsinki, as well as a smaller Ostarifestari event. Helminen has also participated in Kontula shopping centre's working group.

Ari Hulden, an experience expert in homelessness and substance abuse rehabilitation, has carried out important peer work with a big heart and skill in, for example, homeless football and the peer community of Harjula's recovering addicts. In a humane way, he has brought to public attention the status and life circles of the homeless and addicted people in Helsinki. In a bold and often fun way, he tells about his own experiences and those of his peers in this society, and he has also told these stories about Helsinki through guided city walks through homeless Helsinki.

Actress and professor Elina Knihtilä is one of Finland's most famous and award-winning actresses, winning two Jussi awards in her career. As professor of acting at the Uniarts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy, Knihtilä has strongly highlighted issues of equality and diversity and has spoken boldly and self-critically about the responsibility of the arts sector. Knihtilä was a member of the working group that drew up the Helsinki Arts and Culture Vision. In 2021, Knihtilä played the lead role of Anneli in the Finnish Broadcasting Company's Sisäilmaa series, which many felt raised issues of public work and official responsibility through comedy.

Professor emeritus Heikki A. Loikkanen is a pioneer in urban economics and urban policy. He has had an extensive career as a researcher, and, in his work, he has looked at a number of key topics for the city, such as land use, regional economy and municipal management. Loikkanen is a courageous debater who has taken a stand on, for example, the compaction of Helsinki and the functioning of the housing market. He has guided doctoral dissertations from several key researchers in the field and has participated in numerous international research and book projects.

Professor Markku Ollikainen, Chairperson of the Finnish Climate Panel, is one of the most prominent figures in the Finnish climate debate. Ollikainen has published over 200 scientific articles or other publications. Through his work, he has promoted, for example, the protection of the Baltic Sea and is currently chairing the Baltic Sea Panel. Ollikainen's contribution was central to the Helsinki Energy Challenge organised by the City of Helsinki, where the city sought solutions to heat Helsinki in a sustainable way.

Lilli Paasikivi, artistic director of the Finnish National Opera, has renewed the activities of the Finnish National Opera during her term beginning in 2013, for example, by studying the use of new technologies in opera and ballet performances. She has enlivened the city with the communal Suvivirsi stunt in Töölöntori and has acted as the backing force for Finnish summer events. Paasikivi is a successful and recognized opera singer who has performed in numerous top productions around the world, in addition to the Finnish National Opera.

Former professional footballer Aki Riihilahti came through the ranks at HJK. He was born in Helsinki and has played a key role in the club for several seasons. Today, Riihilahti works as the managing director of HJK. Under Riihilahti's leadership, the club has for years had a positive impact on the everyday lives of thousands of Helsinki residents, not only through club activities, but also through after-school clubs and well-being at work. Riihilahti is an active social debater and has defended the role of sport during the coronavirus crisis. He is an international Helsinki resident, who influences key European football networks.

Director of the Health Security Department and Professor Mika Salminen has given a face to the expert assessments behind the authorities' decision-making and measures during the coronavirus pandemic. He has worked closely with the City of Helsinki and the Metropolitan Area coronavirus coordination group, and has had a key impact on the compliance of Finns with the restrictions and recommendations issued.

Managing director Laura Tarkka has enjoyed a successful career as a business manager and board professional in various industries, most recently as managing director of Gigantti Oy. She had a particular influence on the development of Helsinki as managing director of Kämp Collection Hotels. Under Tarkka's leadership, the chain significantly strengthened Helsinki's ability to act as an interesting, high-quality and sustainable tourist city. Tarkka has been an important partner and promoter in the development of the City of Helsinki’s tourism and marketing.

Mayor Ritva Viljanen has enjoyed a significant career in Finnish politics and as an office holder. Her career has highlighted the aim of developing urban policy and highlighting the importance of cities in national and local decision-making. Viljanen has acted consistently in the common interest of large cities in influencing and advocacy work related to the social services and health care reform.  During the coronavirus epidemic, Viljanen's contribution to drawing up the guidelines for the Metropolitan Area has been central. Viljanen served as Deputy Mayor of the City of Helsinki from 2012 to 2017 and promoted major projects in sports and culture with distinction at the time.

In addition to distinguished citizens, the golden Helsinki medal is awarded annually to those elected representatives of the city's administrative bodies who have held positions of trust in the City of Helsinki for a total of at least 20 years.

This year, the City Board has awarded the golden Helsinki medals to four trustees:

  • Jussi Chydenius, musician
  • Juha Hakola, commissioner
  • Arja Karhuvaara, specialised physiotherapist, entrepreneur
  • Laura Rissanen, director

Sports, Science, Arts and Culture Awards of the Year

In addition to the golden Helsinki medal recipients, Helsinki residents who distinguished themselves in science, arts, culture and sports were presented with awards at the Helsinki Day invitational celebration.

Sportsperson and coach of the year awards are given based on sports success. The selection of a sports club is based on merit in nurturing children and young people and creating new innovative operating models and practices.

Helsinki Sportsperson or Team of the Year (€10,000).
Lotta Kemppinen, athletics

Helsinki Sports Club of the Year (€5,000)
Helsingin Suunnistajat ry, orienteering

Young Helsinki Sportsperson of the Year (€2,500)
Nella Nyqvist, badminton

Helsinki Coach of the Year (€2,500)
Saara Niemi, ice hockey


Helsinki Science Award (€10,000)

The objective of the Helsinki Science Award is to strengthen and promote Helsinki as a science city. The award was awarded in recognition of significant scientific work carried out by a Helsinki resident or carried out in Helsinki. Saana Svärd, Assistant Professor at the University of Helsinki, received the science award.

In addition, research grants for ten Helsinki-themed research projects were awarded on Helsinki Day.


Culture Award of the Year (€15,000)

The award is awarded to a Helsinki-based artist in recognition of significant artistic merit or significant work for Helsinki's cultural life. The culture award was presented to freelance photojournalist and photographic artist Sanni Seppo.

Artist of the Year Awards (á 5,000 €)

The awards are presented to Helsinki artists from different fields of the arts. This year, three artists were awarded for their timely significant artistic work.

  • Rebecca Aili Kuukka, artist name Rebecca Yeboah, musician
  • Johanna Ilvessalo, visual artist, sculptor
  • Eero Ojanen, composer, musician

Watch the event on the Helsinki Channel

Helsinki Day programme