The Canadian Freestyle Ski Association sent out a release on Monday calling for gymnasts, trampolinists and divers heading toward retirement — “along with any other acrobatically inclined athletes” — to give skiing aerials a shot.
“You don’t actually need to be a skier, we can teach you the skiing skills,” said head coach Daniel Murphy. “Actually, the optimal situation would be for a potential new aerialist to learn skiing for a couple of years while they are still training and competing in whatever other acrobatic sport they come from.”
In other words, you can become a world-class aerialist in a few short years, even if you’ve never been on snow in your life. Crazy.
Now, I’ve got nothing against aerial skiers, those outrageous men and women who launch themselves off snowy ramps and twist and turn in the air. But this call for talent demonstrates a major problem with the Olympic Games: The Summer Olympics are bursting at the seams because there are too many legitimate sports and not enough room for them all, while the Winter Olympics has become a joke with so many fringe events being added to the program in an effort to keep TV ratings and international interest up.
Look what’s happening in the Summer Games: After the 2008 Beijing Olympics, baseball and women’s softball were dumped to make room for, in 2016, golf and rugby sevens. And now the IOC is threatening to dump wrestling from the 2020 Games.
Meanwhile, at the Winter Olympics, more and more fringe events — events many of us never knew existed — are being added almost as soon as they are invented. At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, for example, mixed-relay biathlon and mixed-team relay luge will be contested— two events that are hugely popular, uh, nowhere.
Maybe in Liechtenstein. Maybe.
Get this: Eleven biathlon events will be contested in Sochi. Eleven. Meanwhile, baseball, with millions of followers worldwide, and professional leagues in North America, South America, Asia, Europe and Australia, gets dumped from the Games and has to fight tooth and nail to get back in. And there’s no guarantee that it will. Same for women’s softball. Those two slots in the Summer Olympic program will be filled by golf and rugby sevens in 2016, and that’s great.
Golf, especially, is a terrific addition to the Olympics, with superstar athletes such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy expressing their excitement at the prospect of participating.
But the fact that the IOC has to dump one hugely popular sport (baseball) to add another hugely popular sport (golf) is ridiculous. And the fact that the IOC is threatening to drop wrestling — one of the very few sports that virtually every nation in the world participates in — is maddening. Wrestling is one of the few sports in the modern Games that goes back to the Ancient Olympics.
It’s an unfortunate situation — too many legitimate summer sports and not enough room for them all at the Summer Olympics. And not enough legitimate sports for the Winter Games. Really, do we need 12 cross-country ski events and 10 snowboarding events? I’m a former Olympics beat writer and I’ve never seen some of these new winter events. And I don’t necessarily want to see them.
So why doesn’t the IOC think outside of the box? I have an idea. Wrestling has always been a winter sport, really, even though tournaments are usually contested in hot and sweaty gyms. So why not add wrestling to the Winter Olympics? That’s certainly better than dumping the sport altogether. And think of the increased interest in the Winter Olympics if the IOC added a sport like wrestling. Suddenly, people in places such as Iran, Mongolia and Nigeria would have a reason to watch the Winter Games, because they’d have a stake in it. They’d have top athletes competing. As of now, the interest in the Winter Olympics is a fraction of that of the Summer Olympics, because only a handful of nations legitimately compete in winter sport events. There aren’t a lot of curlers in Africa.
And there are other ways to get all the best summer sports in the Olympics together. As I pointed out earlier, there are far too many events in sports such as swimming (34) and shooting (17). And do we really need synchronized diving and modern pentathlon? Get rid of some of those events and, bingo, there’s room for golf and baseball and softball.
The problem is, many sports that should be cut from the Games or have had some events cut, have powerful insiders at the IOC. For example, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the son of the former IOC president, is vice-president of the International Modern Pentathlon Union and a member of the IOC executive board, the same board that recommended wrestling be dropped from the 2020 Games, while modern pentathlon, an elitist event with relatively few practitioners, remains on the program. Politics is a killer in sport — especially at the Olympics. But it doesn’t have to be.
With some common sense and a little thinking outside of the box, the Olympics, both Summer and Winter, can be greatly improved. And we won’t have to watch mixed-team relay luge.