New Olympic SportsSunday, Sep. 8, 2013
Today's vote on the addition of sports to the Olympic program highlighted the skill with which the FIS has been able to update, refresh, and expand its own Olympic program by working both within the confines of the space FIS already occupies within the IOC, and by deftly taking advantage of the IOC view that the Winter Olympics still has room to grow.
FIS has had a near constant eye on innovation for over a decade. Annually its sports are reviewed and adapted to ensure they're interesting for viewers, and particularly teens and young adults.
Some of these adaptations, such as judging formats and venue and broadcast improvements, go almost un-noticed but clearly improve the experience for both the athletes and viewers.
Other changes have been more fundamental. Take what was once a more "traditional" sport – cross country skiing. FIS wisely worked within the parameters given to it by the IOC – a set number of medals and a maximum number of athletes – and affected major change that has drastically improved the profile of the sport both internationally and here at home. Gone were multiple variations of essentially the same format, with racers leaving the start one at a time not to be seen again until the finish. In their place now are sprint races, a team sprint, short and demanding laps, mass-start races requiring a re-thinking of tactics, the dual-technique Skiathlon, intermediate sprints to force new tactics, and even pit-stops to enable equipment change.
Not all of these changes came without challenges. Race venues had to be modified. Teams and clubs have had to adapt the way they manage and train their athletes. Manufacturers have had to introduce new types of equipment. And officials have had to be trained in a massive number of new rules. But on balance, these changes have been extremely productive, and have made the sport far more appealing and relevant to the participants and to the public.
FIS has also worked extremely hard to grow the number of sports under its Olympic umbrella. Despite the fact that FIS has had (and continues to have) far and away the most medals awarded to its sports during the Winter Olympics, it has aggressively pursued growth. And it's found a willing partner in the IOC, who seems to keenly understand that the inclusion of action sports in its program (along with the ongoing push toward gender-equity) will keep it fresh and relevant.
This work has brought the addition of sports like freeskiing, new snowboarding events, and a women's event in ski jumping.
FIS clearly has its eyes on continued modernization. The FIS president has highlighted the alpine team event as an area to expand into – awarding more medals but with the built-in advantage of not requiring any new venue or additional athletes - along with a mixed-gender team event in ski jumping, presumably replacing the now contested men's-only team event and thereby working within the space the IOC has already granted.
And with speculation that Tokyo 2020 will provide a catalyst and avenue for the addition of baseball, perhaps Pyeongchang 2018 will weigh into this process with influence of its own, just as Sochi 2014 did for its own benefit when the IOC asked it to expand its original program.
These efforts are vital to the sustained success of the Olympics, the FIS, and each of its national associations such as the USSA. What's good for the Olympics is generally good for the sport of skiing and snowboarding worldwide.
But the efforts don't end with team alpine and mixed jumping. FIS has done considerable work to distinguish dual-moguls, an already appealing sport, as a unique event significantly different from moguls. And FIS must also continue to pay good attention to snowboarding. While snowboarding has been arguably the most innovative and rapidly-developing sport within FIS, the youthful and progressive culture of snowboarding needs to continue to adapt at an even faster clip. Team boardercross, which has added a well-received and much-needed nations' team aspect to snowboarding, and big air, which puts trick progression on the fast-track, provide excellent opportunities for the future – particularly if FIS works within the context of the number of medals, venues and athletes that the IOC has already granted to FIS, and doesn't rely on the IOC to decide whether to expand or to remain static.
Luke Bodensteiner - EVP, Athletics