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USC hurdler tracks cousin's NHL success

South Carolina hurdler JussiHeikkila plans to hunker down infront of the TV tonight for Game 1of the Stanley Cup finals.

He figures to be alone.Heikkila, whose first cousin,Valtteri Filppula, is a center on theDetroit Red Wings’ second scoringline, has tried unsuccessfully to gethis track teammates interested inthe sport.

“They don’t care about hockey,”Heikkila said. “They know that mycousin plays (but say), ‘I never gotinto the game.’ And then theyleave.”

Heikkila, 25, is a year older thanhis cousin, who grew up outsideHelsinki about 200 miles away fromHeikkila’s hometown in Virrat,Finland. The two would ice skateand have footraces when theirfamilies would get together beforeHeikkila gave up competitivehockey at 15 to concentrate ontrack.

“We were pretty even,” Heikkilasaid. “It was good competition.”

The cousins keep tabs on theother’s athletic career via theInternet and compare notes duringsummer vacations in Finland. Bothhave fared well of late: Heikkilafinished fourth in the 400-meterhurdles in a career-best 49.52seconds last week at the SECOutdoor Championships, whileFilppula has three goals and fourassists in the playoffs.

Heikkila was asked whether hiscousin would take the Stanley Cupto Finland if Detroit prevails.

“I don’t care about the Cup,” hesaid. “I just hope that he wins.”

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.