That evening in the individualists' competition, Mauno Nissinen took third in a contest with high-bar specialists, an event that is roughly equivalent to Bill Toomey pole-vaulting against Bob Seagren. It was the last event of the meet. Many of the gymnasts spoke of laying off their routines for a while. Mauno was amazed. "I can only believe that some people here are just after scholarships or trips," he said. "If you want to be a gymnast you do it 365 days a year. Gymnastics has never been a way for me to get some material benefit. I would quit if I reached that point, but I just cannot live without it. Most guys here lay off and lose their shape after season. But then is time when they are in best shape and should learn new routines for next season."
This spring, at the end of his junior year, Mauno Nissinen will return home, and next fall he expects to enroll in a Finnish university. The U.S. remains a puzzle to him. It might as well be another planet. Just picture this scene. The ascetic Finn, silent and sober and craving quiet, arrives at the University of Washington, and the athletic department finds him living quarters in a plush fraternity house on Greek Row. He keeps strange hours and talks to no one. Each morning at 7 he is in the hall outside his room, doing stunts on chairs, walking up and down the stairs on his hands. The brothers whisper about him. Soon it is spring. Many new faces appear in the house, dusting the furniture, washing the floors. One night he is awakened by ungodly screams and chants in the cellar. White-faced, he rushes across the hall, wakes someone up. "There is strange things going on," he whispers. "Go back to sleep, Mauno," he hears. "It's Hell Week." He is puzzled. A few nights later he comes home from a workout that he has sandwiched between classes and part-time jobs. "All these new guys were standing against wall with hands up," he recalls, "and brothers are kicking them in their butts. Those guys were only one year older than pledges, and they are telling them that they should change their attitudes, how they should study. I think that people old enough to go to college they should know what's best for them. Most of guys in house seemed very childish. Impression I got was they were away from home for first time. Their parents have overprotected them."
When the NCAA tournament broke up, a friend offered to finance a call to Finland so Mauno could break the news to his parents. "Maybe I'll fool them," he said, grinning. "I'll tell them I'm at Oulu airport." Evidently his parents thought it was a trick. After all, a call from America? "Mauno," he insisted. "Mauno." They finally spoke for about seven minutes. After he hung up he seemed dumfounded. As soon as his mother had recognized his voice, she congratulated him. Everyone in Oulu had already read the tournament results in the newspaper. Later Nissinen bumped into a Japanese teammate. "Menkaamme oluelle," the Japanese said. It was a Finnish phrase Mauno had taught him. Nissinen nodded assent. "What does that mean?" he was asked. "Let's go get a beer," he replied, putting on his coat. One beer—then to bed before midnight. It would be a very big celebration for Mauno Nissinen.