By Christopher Burgess
If you have watched any of the Sochi Olympics you have surely noticed that this is no longer your grandparents’ Olympics. In Winter Olympics past you would surely get a ton of coverage the skating based sports (think ice skating, speed skating, hockey), and the skiing staples such as downhill skiing, cross country skiing and ski jumping. Throw in some sledding sports (bobsled and luge), and you had your Winter Olympic coverage. In the last 22 years that has all changed.
While some of these sports are relatively tame, you could argue that the ski jumping and downhill skiing are in effect extreme sports. These are sports that are pose a risk to the competitors at a level that you don’t really see in the Summer Olympics. The characteristics of these events might have led the IOC to be more willing to accept a push towards more of the X-Games type events. These types of events have slowly worked their way into the Winter Games, and now make up a big part of NBC’s coverage.
In 1992 the first medals were awarded in freestyle skiing. In the 1992 Olympics in Albertville this consisted solely of the moguls. Just two years later they would add aerials. Subsequently the events from there would get more extreme as they added ski cross (2010 Vancouver) and halfpipe and ski slopestyle (2014 Sochi).
With Snowboarding, they did not start by getting their toes wet with something that combined a current event like slalom with tricks, as moguls did with skiing. Instead they jumped into the deep end adding both giant slalom and halfpipe for the 1998 Nagano Olypmics. Again the IOC would add to snowboarding docket as time went on adding snowboard cross in Turin (2006) and slopestyle for snowboarding in the Sochi Olympics.
Shaun White competing in the snowboard halfpipe during the Winter Olympics
The push to add these events has been almost entirely a ploy to attract a younger audience. Knowing this it makes sense to try to add new disciplines as they become popular to keep the programming appealing to the younger audience who tend to be attracted to the new and exciting.
That being said, there seems to be a disconnect developing between the summer and Winter Olympics. Where as the Winter Olympics as detailed above have gone out of their way to widen their base with a younger audience, the summer games have widely stayed more traditional. Since 2000 the Summer Olympics have added Trampoline, Rugby Sevens, and the Triathlon while re-adding Golf, which has twice before appeared at early 20th century Olympics.
While nothing really says appealing to a younger audience like adding golf to the Olympics, trampoline would probably be considered the “most extreme,” addition to the lineup. Even that, unlike most of the new winter sports does not have a background in the X-Games. What we have not seen is a push to get any skateboarding events onto the summer program, where the current most extreme event is probably whitewater rafting. That leads one to wonder if the IOC has decided to write off the youth viewership in the summer.
Whether they have written off this viewership group during the summer or not, it seems the IOC is content to let the Summer Olympics stand on their own tradition and push the winter games into riskier, more extreme territories.