Monday, February 22, 2010

Ari-Pekka Nurmenkari, the Olympic story that NBC won't cover

By Sunday morning, I had finally had it.

If you've been reading my writings for the last several years, you know that I am not a fan of the way in which NBC covers the Olympics. By the time the main NBC network is done with its Olympic coverage, the resulting broadcast bears little relation to the Olympics itself. This is especially compounded this year, when people in southern California, which is in the same time zone as Vancouver, have to wait three hours to see any of the major Olympic events.

This year, I had already started the FriendFeed room nbcsucks, which tracks Twitter coverage of NBC's version of the Olympics. I did this after joining the Facebook group NBC Olympics Coverage Sucks.

But to be fair, I'm looking at the other side of things. One of the feeds in the nbcsucks FriendFeed room is NBC's own Twitter feed, and I have also joined NBC's official Facebook group for Olympics coverage.

Which is where I saw this item:

Here's a recap of all of yesterday's events at the Vancouver Games.

This West Coaster ended up venting a wee bit:

Actually, if I wanted to see a recap, I would have seen the recap that NBC showed on TV last night of all of the events that occurred 3+ hours previously. The one event that truly interests me is women's figure skating, but NBC will not be showing that event live, and frankly I'm not sure how many of the figure skaters will be shown by NBC, even on three hour tape delay.

Later in the thread, in response to several of us, Nick Stoops posted the following:

There are LIVE & FULL REPLAYS available @
NBC should do more self promotion about this capability during the countless commercial breaks in a hour; what's 10-20 more seconds gonna harm?

As I noted later in the thread, here's the problem:

Danielle/Nick, regarding NBC's replay capability - great idea in concept, not fully achieved in practice. Let's say, for example, that I want to watch the male Finnish figure skater. So I go to and choose "Figure Skating" as my sport. I then scan the available videos to find the men's figure ... See Moreskating short program. Unfortunately, as of 12:10 pm PST Sunday February 21, there are NO event replays for ANY of the figure skating events - not even NBC's coverage of the events, much less the "full-event replays" that are being discussed. Perhaps it's not NBC's fault, but it's disappointing.

So, because NBC probably isn't going to bother to tell you the story of Ari-Pekka Nurmenkari, I will do it myself.

For the record, Finland has sent three figure skaters to the Olympics. I have mentioned both Kiira Korpi and Laura Lepisto several times in my empire of blogs. Both skaters benefit from the highly-ranked competition between female Finnish figure skaters, a competition that started several years ago when Susanna Poykio was the first Finnish female figure skater to medal in a European event.

I'm not sure how many top-ranked Finnish figure skaters are on the men's side, but the fact that Finland could only send one male figure skater to Vancouver indicates that the competition isn't as fierce. Ari-Pekka Nurmenkari was the designated competitor for the men's competition. His ISU biography indicates that he is has been the Finnish national champion several times, and that he has placed as high as 14th in the European championships - something that does not sound impressive until you realize that the 14th place European figure skater is better than nearly all of the male figure skaters in Europe. So perhaps he wasn't going to get the gold in Vancouver, but he was no slouch.

While Bob Costas has probably never heard of the guy, the New York Times has, and the Times actually live-blogged the men's short program. Figure skating is sort of like golf - they start with a bunch of competitors, but only some of them make the cut for the final championship round. So Nurmenkari's first task was to make the cut by performing well enough in the short program to advance to the long program. Here's what the Times had to say:

8:17 p.m. |Finnish Hope

Ari-Pekka Nurmenkari of Finland is up. He was 22nd at the recent European Championships and has won his won national championship every year but one since he started competing in 2003. He is married to a former professional tennis player, Annina Ahti and has a son, Axel, who was born last August. Nurmenkari fell on his opening triple axel and has had a few more mistakes, but the crowd is clapping to the music to support him.

One more skater left until Plushenko graces the crowd with his presence. – Juliet Macur

Needless to say, Canada wasn't going to let the New York Times hog the whole story. Macleans also live-blogged the event:

8:15 p.m.
Finland’s Ari-Pekka Nurmenkari just totally bailed. And then fumbled his second jump…a salchow (yeah, that’s right, I just wanted to use the word).

8:17 p.m.
(Disclaimer: That jump might not have actually been a salchow.)

Nurmenkari got a little more coverage in the Finnish press. Here's a sample:

Vancouver. Ari-Pekka Nurmenkari haparoi pahasti olympialaisten taitoluistelun miesten lyhytohjelmassa. Hän kaatui heti ensimmäisen hyppynsä, kolmoisakselin, ja horjahti kahdessa myöhemmässäkin hypyssä.

"Kauden surkein", Nurmenkari kuvaili suoritustaan, josta irtosi 44,62 pistettä.

"Onhan se v-käyrä aika suuri tällä hetkellä."

Now I'll admit that Google Translate's capabilities have vastly improved since I was reading Kiira Korpi articles four years ago, but you don't need Google Translate to know that 44.62 is not a good number for the short program, as a later paragraph in the article makes clear:

Odotetun kovatasoinen lyhytohjelma oli äärimmäisen tasainen. Sen voitti Venäjän Jevgeni Pljuštšenko pisteillä 90,85. Aivan kannassa ovat Yhdysvaltojen Evan Lysacek 90,30 pisteellä ja Japanin Daisuke Takahashi pisteillä 90,25.

For clarification, the skater who scored 90.85 is known in the English-speaking world as Evgeni Plushenko. Plushenko and Lysacek advanced to the medal round. Nurmenkari didn't. listed the final standings for the short program; Nurmenkari's 44.62 placed him 30th in the list of 30 competitors; only the top 24 advanced.

But does that make Ari-Pekka Nurmenkari a failure? Not at all. For one, he was one of only thirty men in the world who were even entitled to compete in the Olympics, so by definition he is at the highest echelon of his sport. In addition, did you note the description in the Times live-blog of the event? While he made some mistakes early on, the crowd was clapping along with his performance and apparently enjoyed the opportunity to see him perform.

So how did NBC cover Nurmenkari? He has a page on the NBC website, but a statement at the beginning of his bio shows how much NBC invested in reporting on this athlete:

The biographical information was provided by the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.

NBC spent a little more time on some of the other athlete pages, such as the page for figure skater Jeremy Abbott, who happens to be an American.

So now we move on to women's figure skating, and we in the Pacific time zone will be wonderfully blessed, as I noted before. According to, the ladies short program begins at 4:30 pm Vancouver (and Los Angeles) time on Tuesday, February 23. As with the men, there will be 30 competitors. NBC's Los Angeles coverage begins 3 1/2 hours later, at 8:00 pm, and they probably will not show 30 competitors.
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