There has been much talk in the international sporting community, especially within freeskiing and snowboarding circles, of the new sports that the IOC is looking at adding for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. It is unprecedented for the IOC to still be considering sports for an Olympics that is less than three years away, but because of the strong support for the sports of freestyle skiing halfpipe and slopestyle, snowboarding slopestyle and women’s ski jumping they are. I am going to take a look at each of these sports and give my opinion on whether they should be in the 2014 Olympic program. I’ve been following them, in particular the freestyle skiing and snowboarding slopestyle, very closely this year.
In order to know why the IOC will accept a sport into the Winter Olympics, we have to know what the factors that they take into consideration are. First it needs to be popular throughout the world, but particularly in the United States, Asia and Europe. Second, it needs to be competitive. In other words one person can’t dominate the sport and various countries have to be represented among the top level of athletes. Another factor that comes into women’s ski jumping is that the IOC wants gender equality. That is why women’s boxing has been added to the London 2012 program. In considering sports for the Olympics, the IOC looks at the World Championships, as well as other major competitions.
I’ll start with women’s ski jumping, where the FIS World Championships were just completed in Oslo, Norway. Women’s ski jumping made a strong bid to be added to the Vancouver 2010 program, but just came up short. I think we can all agree that ski jumping has had a long history on the Olympic programming and is hugely popular in Europe. Looking at the results of the World Championships, an Austrian, an Italian and a French woman finished in the podium. Seven different countries were represented in the top ten. Thirteen different countries were represented in the top 30, which is the cutoff line to make the second jump. This shows that, especially at the top, women’s ski jumping is very competitive between different nations. The only main problem that women’s ski jumping faces is that it still isn’t a part of the World Cup, which is exclusive to me. I’m sure that if it is added to the Olympics, this will change though.
Snowboard slopestyle may be the hardest event of them all to judge. This event has existed at pro events, like Winter X Games, and on the Ticket To Ride World Tour for years now. However, the official international governing body FIS, is relatively new to the game. FIS held their first slopestyle competition at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary just before the Olympics last year. The second was at the World Championships in January and the third was at Canada Olympic Park again last week. Because FIS is so late in the game, none of the top slopestyle competed in either event this year. The World Championships featured men from five different countries in the top ten, and women from six different countries in the top ten. While this may be important to FIS and the IOC, in all reality it doesn’t matter because only one of the twenty athletes would have a chance at an Olympic competition.
On top of the FIS events, which at the time are few and far between and don’t even have their own Crystal Globe to hand out to the overall winner at the end of the season, there are numerous major slopestyle competitions in the world throughout the season. These include Winter X Games, Winter X Games Europe, the US Open, the European Open and the Arctic Challenge. The IOC has stated that they will also take these events into consideration when discussing the inclusion of snowboard slopestyle at the Olympics because they better represent what an Olympic final would look like. Not only do the FIS fields pale in comparison to these events, but the FIS courses also don’t have the jumps and features that allow the best athletes to shine. The US Open and Winter X Games Europe haven’t taken place yet this year, so I will look at the other three events.
I’ll start with the European Open, which I just watched over this past weekend on Rogers Sportsnet. The men’s top ten there featured athletes from eight different countries, while the women’s top ten featured athletes from seven different countries. The Arctic Challenge featured men from five countries and women from six countries in the top ten. At Winter X Games men from five different countries made the top eight, while women from eight different countries made the top ten. The women’s result included all of the top six being from different countries. Slopestyle definitely has a lot of support in Europe and the United States. It hasn’t caught on like halfpipe has in Asia, but I think that would change if it is added to the Olympic program. If you ask me, it is the best snowboarding discipline because it combines rail features with jumps.
Freestyle skiing has two disciplines looking for a 2014 Olympic spot. I’ll start with the one that seems like a guarantee, halfpipe. Snowboarding halfpipe has been in the Olympics since 2002, so the infrastructure is already there for skiing halfpipe. Also, unlike snowboarding, FIS does a pretty good job of getting the top skiers to show up to their competitions. It also helps that the Association of Freeskiing Professionals, which most of the top skiers are apart of, has a deal with FIS where its events are also worth points on the AFP Tour. In freestyle skiing halfpipe the big events are Winter X Games, Winter X Games Europe, the FIS World Championships and the Dew Tour events.
Let’s start by looking at the Winter X Games results. The men’s event only featured athletes from three countries in the eight person final, while the women’s event also only had athletes from three countries in the eight person final. At the World Championships, held only a week later, five countries were represented in the men’s top ten and five countries were represented in the women’s top ten. While there isn’t a lot of diversity in skiing halfpipe right now, the fact that the pipe is already there, which makes it a good economic decision to add in the event, should mean that skiing halfpipe is an Olympic event in Sochi.
Finally on to freestyle skiing slopestyle. It is in much the same boat as its snowboarding brother, FIS competition is fairly new. However, it does have one thing going for it, the FIS World Championship course at Deer Valley, Utah is one of the top courses in the world and is at the same level as most of the major pro events. The men’s event at Winter X Games had athletes from six countries making the eight person final, while the women’s event had skiers from four countries making the top ten. One week later at the World Championships, men from six countries cracked the top ten, while women from four countries made the top ten. It is easy to see the diversity of the men’s event, while the women’s event has a little catching up to do with Canada, the United States, Norway and Australia’s Anna Segal dominating the competition.
In the end I think the women’s ski jumping and skiing halfpipe events are almost certainties to be added in. The support is there, the infrastructure is there and there is a high level of competition. The slopestyle events in both snowboarding and freestyle skiing may have to wait until 2018. The biggest reason for this is that they are both barely supported by FIS. I think it might be beneficial, especially for women’s skiing slopestyle, to have four more years of competition that includes more FIS World Cups. While the top athletes won’t compete in many of these events, especially on the snowboarding side, it will allow other countries to get involved. Having said that, I think that the two slopestyle events are a package deal. Either both of them get added, or neither is added. I also hope they are included because, as I said earlier, they really show how is the best technical athlete in their respective sports.