All eyes are on snowboarder Peetu Piiroinen
Could Piiroinen conceivably be Finland's Sports Personality of the Year for 2010?
Snowboarder Peetu Piiroinen is a little late for the press conference arranged by the Snowboard Team Finland (STF), but when he finally shows up he is immediately be surrounded by dozens of journalists.
Peetu Piiroinen, the Olympic snowboarding half-pipe silver medallist from Vancouver, has been arguably the most successful Finnish athlete in 2010. In fact, it would seem that he is currently the number one star in the national team.
The national snowboarding squad is now in high spirits. They have tasted success, and the Snowboard World Championships in January 2011 will see a record-large team of 21 Finnish snowboarders taking part.
Piiroinen is one of those athletes from among whom the Finnish Sports Personality of the Year 2010 will be chosen by the national sports journalists. The choice usually runs along traditional lines: the journalists are a relatively conservative bunch when it comes down to it, and achievements in cross-country skiing, athletics, and wrestling - all core Finnish sports of yore if not today - tend to count for a lot when the votes are tallied.
Keijo Rosberg won when he took the Formula One title in 1982, and so did Mika Häkkinen in 1998, but Kimi Räikkönen's F1 title in 2007 was not enough to beat javelin-thrower Tero Pitkämäki.
Resistance to change is strong. But is it possible that for the first time in history a snowboarder - a representative of a relative upstart sport - could be chosen?
Mats Lindfors, the Executive Director of the Finnish Snowboard Association, rapidly comes up with a reason why this should happen.
”The half-pipe finals in Vancouver were the only televised sports event with a larger audience in the United States than that of American Idols”, Lindfors argues very persuasively.
Lindfors even remembers by heart all the audience numbers: snowboarding about 32 million viewers, the reality tv-show a little fewer.
By way of comparison: the audience for the ice hockey finals at the Olympics was maybe 26 million. Which is why snowboarding is a much larger discipline than people in Finland understand, Lindfors enthuses.
Piiroinen’s team mate Markku Koski, the Olympic snowboarding half-pipe bronze medallist from Turin 2006, gives another example: snowboarding broadasts are very popular advertising slots on the US sports channel ESPN. Snowboarding attracts masses, and money is also moving around.
Born in 1988 in Hyvinkää, Piiroinen is only 22 years old, but Pekka Koskela, the head coach of the Finnish Snowboard Team, has been working with him already for ten years.
”I want to believe that Peetu will be chosen. He has the best Olympics achievement. Moreover, he has won the TTR World Snowboard Tour twice in succession”, Koskela lists.
”In the eyes of the great public, we may still have had problems getting the message over, which is why it would be a sign of appreciation”, Koskela adds.
Today, Piiroinen is aiming at the World Championships, hoping for a podium finish among the three best in the half-pipe. Given his past record, it is not an unrealistic target.
When asked whether he himself would consider it possible to be chosen as the Finnish Sports Personality of the Year, Piiroinen says drily: ”Based on my sporting achievements, sure. However, we still have a reputation as just people jumping around in baggy pants."
Previously in HS International Edition:
Snowboarder Piiroinen wins Finland first medal in Vancouver (18.2.2010)
Peetu Piiroinen wins Snowboarding Big Air World Cup (12.2.2007)
First silver and bronze medals from Torino as fancied Finns stumble (13.2.2006)
Peetu Piiroinen (Wikipedia)
Finnish Sports Personality of the Year (Wikipedia)
Finnish Snowboard Association (in Finnish)
TTR World Snowboard Tour (Piiroinen won in 2009 and 2010)