POSTED: January 12th 2014

JOHN GOODBODY: IOC should be thanked for introducing new Winter Games sports

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) With just under a month to go before the opening of the Winter Olympics,  there is much to look forward to in Sochi. Although concerns about terrorist attacks have reached a crescendo since the killings in Volgograd and there remains a residue of resentment over the homophobic stance of the Russian Government, there is also widespread interest in the new sports that will be brought in for the Games.

Ski jumping for men is a well- established feature of the Winter Games. But this year, for the first time, there will be a women’s competition –and about time too. But there will also be two completely new skiing events—half-pipe and slopestyle. In half-pipe, competitors exhibit tricks while going down the pipe. It is sufficiently dangerous as well as dramatic for the competitors to wear helmets and during practice there are air-bags for protection on the sides of pipes.

The athletes reach tremendous heights during the sport , with the world record being set in 2010 by American Peter Olenick with a leap of 7.59 metres (24 feet 11 inches).  Half-pipe has been part of the Winter X Games since 2002 but its arrival on the Olympic programme has been astonishingly swift, given that it was only formally recognised by the International Ski Federation in 2010.

Slopestyle skiing and showboarding have also been part of the Winter X Games. Here the emphasis has been on performing a variety of tricks rather than doing one repeatedly. In the skiiing event, competitors use twin-tip skis, which is helpful if the competitor lands backwards. In both skiing and snowboarding, athletes take part on specially constructed trails in the mountains, which have a variety of jumps and hazards on which they have to demonstrate their versatile skills.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has accepted these events on to the Winter programme to help widen the popularity of the Games. It has recognised that it must constantly appeal to the youth of the world, who often are attracted by these acrobatic disciplines. And why not ? They will also be a big draw on television. Yes, traditional events such as the downhill, slalom, ski jumping and biathlon should remain but additional activities should be added to the roster of events.

They also help fill out the 17-day programme. I have always been surprised that the International Ski Federation has not introduced an all-round event, similar to the decathlon in athletics or the modern pentathlon, in which competitors have to take part in a variety of activities, such as the downhill, slalom, ski jumping, a cross-country event and also one of the acrobatic disciplines. This would reward the genuine all-rounder while not requiring any more specialised facilities, which would already be in place for these recognised disciplines.

The IOC has a difficult balancing act to perform. On the one hand it has to preserve the tradition of both the Summer and Winter Olympics by including the sports for which they have become renowned. On the other hand, it must always be mindful that innovation is essential. Young people must be attracted to the Games and so a certain extent there must be some pandering to their interests.  For these Winter Games in Sochi, it seems to have struck the correct balance.    

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.

Keywords · John Goodbody · IOC · Olympics · Sochi 2014

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