How to

17 August 2016

New Sports to be Included in the 2018 Winter Olympics

The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games will welcome in four new sporting disciplines into the competitive arena: snowboarding big air, curling mixed doubles, speed skating mass start, and Alpine skiing team.

The International Olympic Committee said the events were chosen because of several factors: ‘added value; youth appeal; attractiveness for TV, media and the general public; gender equality; minimum impact on the number of events and/or quotas; and infrastructure and operational cost and complexity.’

Parallel slalom in snowboarding narrowly missed out, as it was dropped from the Olympic programme in favour of the big air event.

So, let’s take a look at these new events, in no particular order.

Mixed Doubles Curling

This event takes place on the same ice sheets as its single-sex, ‘traditional’ counterparts, but they differ in several respects.  

Firstly, rather than a team of four members, mixed teams are made up of just one male and one female curler. There can be no changes to the team, no alternate players, or replacements.

Time is tighter in mixed curling, as the pair is allowed just 22 minutes of thinking time, compared to the 38 minutes granted in the traditional game. The action is shorter and faster, with mixed games scheduled for 8 ends, rather than 10.

Each team has 6 stones, not the traditional 8, and one stone must be prepositioned on the centreline before each ‘end’ of play. One player throws the first and last stones; the other throws the three middle stones. Players are allowed to swap positions between each ‘end’ of play, if they wish, and both team members can participate in sweeping.

World Curling Federation (WCF) President Kate Caithness says the curling community is ‘absolutely delighted’ by the inclusion of the mixed event:

‘Our athletes have showcased this exciting and dynamic alternative to traditional team curling at our World Mixed Doubles Championships for many years now and we’re thrilled that their progress has been rewarded by the IOC’s decision.’

She hopes this change will raise the profile of curling:

‘We are confident that that this addition to the Olympic programme will accelerate curling’s growth extensively over the coming years. As a result, this is another key step in the development of curling as we look to make our sport more accessible to everyone around the world.’

She adds that mixed curling is becoming more popular and developed in countries like Spain, Hungary, and Austria, all of which won medals at the most recent World Mixed Doubles Curling Championships. With this in mind, curling associations are hoping to receive an increase in funding from national sporting bodies.

Speed Skating Mass Start

Speed skating was first seen in the Olympic programme in 1924, although its inclusion had been agreed in 1914. The 1916 Olympics were cancelled due to the War, so speed skaters’ Olympic debut was delayed until the 1924 Games in Chamonix. Here, New Yorker Charles Jewtraw claimed the first Olympic gold medal in the sport.

The skating events that are now part of the Games are: 500m, 1,000m, 1,500m, 5,000m, 10,000m, Team Pursuit and Mass Start. Separate events are held for men and women for each of these, and there are no mixed events.

Mass start speed skating involves a maximum of 28 skaters who race 16 laps around an open track. Every four laps there is an intermediate sprint, during which there points are up for grabs. The first three skaters are awarded points according to their position: first gains 5; second, 3; and third, 1.

The final intermediate sprint has prizes of 60, 40 and 20 points for the top three skaters. The winners of the race are the first three to cross the line.

While some physical contact between skaters is normal and unavoidable, serious cases of obstruction can lead to disqualification, especially if a skater falls. Races can be restarted if there is a significant crash in the first lap. A ‘severe crash’, according to the rules from 1914, is defined as a crash involving at least 6 athletes.

Big Air Snowboarding

This event debuted in the World Championships in 2003, and was an instant crowd-pleaser. Last year, athletes performed impressive tricks in the air, after launching themselves off huge jumps, before a sell-out crowd.

Tricks can consist of all sorts of complex spins and techniques. Some known moves are frontside 1080, backside 1440 and double corks in the air. Many competitions, including the Olympic rules, require the winner to complete a certain special trick to take the prize.

Height, distance and a clean landing are also rewarded in this event.

Snowboarding is a relatively new sport in the Winter Olympics, first held at the 1998 Nagano Games in Japan. Male and female snowboarders can take part in 5 different events: parallel giant slalom, halfpipe, snowboard cross, slopestyle, and the newly-added big air.

Team USA has historically entered the strongest snowboarding team, boasting a total of 24 medals, followed by Switzerland, on 12, and France, on 10.

British snowboarder Lesley McKenna, who competed in halfpipe in three Olympic Games, predicts that the addition of the big air event will drastically improve Britain's chances of scoring medals.

Speaking to the BBC, she hailed the inclusion as ‘a very exciting prospect’ for Britain:

‘We have world-class big air athletes and there is strength and depth with lots of youngsters coming through too.’

The International Skating Union put forward both the speed skating mass start and synchronized skating for inclusion in the 2018 Winter Olympic program, but only the former was accepted by the IOC.

Alpine Skiing Nation Team

The nation team event is an exciting Alpine ski race, and was a firm favourite among spectators at the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships, held in Colorado, USA.

Each heat involves two male and two female skiers, who compete head-to-head on a course with the same gates and flags as the giant slalom. Teams can consist of up to six athletes.

The event takes the shape of a knockout tournament between 16 nations, and will be a must-see in PyeongChang.

It operates on a points system, in which each win in a heat gains one point for the team. In tied races, both teams gain one point. After four runs, if the result is tied at 2-2, the winner is the team with the best individual run time.

Alpine skiing events can be split into contests of pure speed, the downhill and super-G, and those of technical skill, the slalom and giant slalom. Alpine Combined is an event that mixes downhill and slalom skillsets.

Skiers on the downhill event, the fastest in the Alpine skiing category, pass a gate at an average of 100mph.
Austria currently holds the highest medal total in Alpine skiing (114), not so closely followed by Switzerland (59) and France (43).

Winter Olympic Facts

  • The PyeongChang Winter Olympics were rebranded to include the capital ‘C’ to avoid confusion with the North Korean capital Pyongyang. Choi Moon-Soon, governor of Gangwon province, said this action was taken because ‘foreigners can get confused’ by the similar names. In 2014, a UN conference attendee was detained for 5 hours by North Korean authorities in Pyongyang when he mistakenly flew to the wrong city. Kenyan Daniel Olomae Ole Sapit was fined and flown back to Beijing.
  • ‘Pyeong’ means peace in Korean, while ‘chang’ means prosperity. 

Naomi Pyburn

Naomi is an English graduate with an itch to write. Her free time is spent blogging, reading feminist writing, cycling, cooking and managing her food Instagram account. Her not-so secret talent is the ability to nap anywhere.