New Events Enliven The Games
Mogul skiing won a spot on Olympic roster: Can aerials, speed skiing, even snowboarding be far off?
ALBERTVILLE, FRANCE — IMAGINE what the winter Olympics would be like without ice dancing or Alpine skiing.
Without Alpine events, Jean-Claude Killy could not have won three gold medals in 1968 - and likely would not have been able to bring the Games to the Savoie this year. Without ice dancing, one of the most anticipated events of these Olympics - featuring silver-medalists Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay of France - would have been on the outside looking in.
Downhill skiing wasn't ushered into the Olympics until 1948, at St. Moritz, Switzerland. Ice dancing is a Johnny-and-Jill-come-lately, having made its debut in 1976 at Innsbruck, Austria.
The ice-and-snow Games, which began in 1924 with five sports (hockey, Nordic skiing, bobsledding, and speed and figure skating), are not frozen in time. Olympic authorities keep the chalet shutters open, and are not averse to expanding the winter Games - within reason.
This year, some wonder if they have gone off their waxed runners with the addition of speed skiing as a demonstration sport. Other sports being given a look-see, without a grant of full-medal status, are curling and two freestyle skiing events: aerials and ballet.
A third freestyle discipline - moguls - has received the Olympic stamp of approval, as have short-track (or indoor) speed skating and a women's biathlon, which means that this ski-and-shoot competition is getting more entrenched rather than less so. (Once known as "military ski patrol," it was dropped after 1948 but resurfaced as biathlon in 1960.)
A call to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) office here yields no hints about what sports might make it to future Olympics.
Stay tuned to future decisionmaking sessions of the Olympic family, the IOC says, and read the Olympic charter. The charter outlines the criteria for accepting sports, disciplines (a branch of a sport), and events (competitions in an Olympic sport). For example, skiing (a sport) includes slalom (a discipline) for both men and women (events).
For a new winter sport to be admitted, it must be widely practiced in 25 countries and on three continents. (In the summer Games, men's sports must be practiced by 75 countries on four continents, and women's sports in 40 countries on three continents.)
A sport's participant base, therefore, is key to official recognition. Clearly, though, other forces are at play - especially in the selection of what should receive a trial run at the Games.
The IOC does listen to the wishes of local Olympic organizers. In Calgary in 1988, for example, the Canadian hosts got permission to play to their strengths with three "demo" additions - curling, short-track speed skating, and freestyle skiing.
This time, moguls earned a promotion to official acceptance, while aerials and ballet did not. Why the different treatment?
Tom Kelly, a spokesman for US Skiing, the sport's American governing body, says that Olympic officials are wary of adding sports that rely on subjective judging. Figure skating, apparently, provides more than enough controversy in this regard.
"Moguls has a more acceptable judging format," Mr. Kelly says. "Plus, it is closer to recreational skiing than any other Olympic skiing event.... It's something the average TV viewer can look at and say, 'This is something I can do, maybe at a different level, but it's what I do.
Another advantage moguls has is that 25 percent of a skier's score is based on speed. Like ballet and aerials, it is well confined spatially (usually less than a quarter mile), unlike the Alpine events that stretch a mile or more.
"It's something you can see from top to bottom; it's exciting. It's like the motocross of winter," says American Donna Weinbrecht, champion of the women's moguls competition.
Freestyle ballet is skied to music and on a surface that has been described as "flatter than an opera stage." In the aerials, skiers shoot off short jumps, then perform mid-air acrobatics before landing on steeply pitched slopes.
In the early 1970s, freestyle was called "hotdog skiing" in the United States. "It was the big thing in skiing then," says Nelson Carmichael, the men's moguls bronze medalist for the US. He says serious injuries to aerialists forced the sport underground for a period. "A lot of ski areas banned freestyle, or a least the aerials. The whole sport almost totally died," he says.
The Europeans continued to pursue it, and when the international ski federation formally recognized freestyle about a decade ago, Americans quickly re-embraced a more respectable and safer version of the sport.
"The safety standards in aerials now are phenomenal," says US Skiing's Kelly. "We do not permit our aerialists to do a trick on snow until they've done it several hundred times over water." Kelly adds that the American skiing community believes aerials will become one of the most spectacular events for spectators and television viewers in upcoming Olympics.
Keep an eye on snowboarding, too, and even ice sailing. But don't hold your breath for snowmobiling. The Olympic charter bans "sports, disciplines, or events in which performance depends essentially on mechanical propulsion."