New Events for the 2014 Winter Olympics?

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After years of lobbying, several winter-sports athletic groups have moved one step closer to having their events officially included in the next Winter Olympics, set to take place in 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

The International Olympic Committee has announced that their final decision on the seven proposed new events will be delayed until 2011, but that they were looking favorably at the prospect of introducing these events to the next games. The events under consideration are:

• mixed biathlon relay, a version of the winter biathlon in which each team comprises two men and two women;
• ski halfpipe, a relatively new skiing event that has gained in popularity;
• ski and snowboard slopestyle, which combines jumping with impressive in-air trickery;
• women’s ski jumping, whose exclusion many in skiing consider to be sexist;
• and team events in luge and figure skating.

An eighth event, an Alpine skiing team competition that features racers going head to head on a giant slalom, was rejected.

The women’s ski jumping event in particular has received extensive press due to the gender issues involved. In the lead-up to the 2010 games in Vancouver, proponents of the event were so infuriated by the IOC’s unwillingness to budge that they took their case to the Canadian Supreme Court, which opted not to force the IOC to include the event.

The IOC’s justification for leaving women’s ski jumping out of the Games is that the sport does not have enough elite competitors in the world, but this has changed. Women’s ski jumping has picked up over the last couple of decades, and it now has more serious competitors than other sports that have long been included in the Olympics—for example, skeleton.

Although the IOC hasn’t yet approved women’s ski jumping for 2014, they seem much more likely to change their minds this time around. Many were hoping the IOC would announce their decision this past month, but officials said that they wanted first to assess the competition at the world championships this winter in Norway.

Another point in favor of the inclusion of women’s ski jumping is the built-in star power they would have with Lindsay Vonn, already considered to be one of the best female skiers in the world. This past year, in addition to winning gold and bronze metals at the winter games, Vonn became champion of the first ever international competition in women’s ski jumping. She has been one of the most high-profile lobbyers in favor of the event’s inclusion.

While the delay is the decision-making progress is good news in that it means the events have not been ruled out, many proponents of these events continue to grow frustrated. This year’s winter sports competition season won’t end for 6 more months, and that’s 6 months in which these athletes will not be receiving the level of support they would get were they confirmed Olympic sports.

As a result, the athletes will have to continue training for 6 months under an air of uncertainty. And in the meantime, the international winter sports competitions will be somewhat tainted by this uncertainty, which will make organizers feel that they have to give these events extra promotions.

The other new events under consideration may not get the consistent headlines that women’s ski jumping gets, but they still have a lot of lobbying in their favor. Ski and snowboard slopestyle proponents, for example, hope that the upcoming inaugural snowboarding world championships will bring new attention to their events. Meanwhile, the team event in figure skating has a good chance of inclusion given the continued popularity of other figure skating events.

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