Let's Get Some More Fresh Events Into the Winter Games
That's in stark comparison to the Summer Games, which has seen relatively greater fluctuation in its program - Tokyo 2020 saw baseball & softball, karate, 3x3 basketball, surfing, sport climbing, and skateboarding all join the program, at least for that one edition. What's more, Beijing 2022 will feature only 109 medal events, compared to 339 at Tokyo 2020 during a same 12-day window.
Granted, it has traditionally been tougher to expand the winter program, as host sites have tended to be smaller in size; winter ski resort destinations like St. Moritz or Lake Placid. But Salt Lake City 2002, Vancouver 2010, Beijing 2022 and even Milano Cortina 2026 buck that old trend, and reports of larger candidates for 2030 - Salt Lake City again, Sapporo, or Barcelona, for example - show that hosts can be found to accommodate more athletes and venues.
That got me thinking...what are some other new sports or new disciplines of existing sports out there that could or should fit into a Winter Olympics? Let's take a look...
Ice hockey is currently the only true team sport on the Winter Olympics (curling doesn't count as a team "ball" sport!). Bandy is similar to ice hockey but is played with eleven players each side (vs six in hockey) and a ball (vs a puck) on a larger rink. It's certainly global - twenty nations took part across the 2019 and 2020 men's world championships A and B divisions, including Russia, Sweden, Japan, China, the U.S., Great Britain...even Somalia and Mongolia.
I've previously mentioned synchronized skating as a potential Olympic discipline to add a fresh feel to figure skating in the Games. To repeat: drop the non-competitive team event, and the superfluous gala, and there is more than enough room on the calendar to fit 'synchro' into the Olympic schedule.
On the other hand, competitiveness hasn't expanded much outside of Scandinavia, North America, and Russia. And, with up to sixteen skaters on each team (not counting reserves), and assuming at least eight teams for a competition, that's a lot of extra figure skaters in the total athlete count.
Synchro has had a World Championship since 2000, and is technically a gender neutral event, with men competing now and then within largely female teams. The International Skating Union has lobbied for inclusion before, and likely will again for 2030.
Natural Track Luge
What we know as Olympic luge since 1964 is specifically artificial track luging - generally using the same track venue as the other sliding sports, bobsled and skeleton. Natural track luge uses a mostly horizontal course along existing mountain roads and paths, and specialized sleds and shoes for steering and braking, respectively. Athletes can use their limbs as well for propelling. A World Championship has been held since 1979, and mimic artificial's men's & women's singles and men's doubles events.
Italy has hosted the Worlds nine times, and the International Luge Federation had hoped for Olympic inclusion for Milano Cortina 2026. Existing tracks are rare outside of Europe, though, and, notably, none near any of the 2030 contenders. And...what of environmental concerns should a host need to, um, carve a new venue out of a mountainside...?
Originating in the late 1800s, telemark combines elements of alpine with cross-county skiing, most noticeably featuring a kneeling technique in turning. The 2021 World Championships in Switzerland was the 23rd edition by the International Ski Federation (FIS).
There was anticipation that telemark would be included as a new Olympic skiing discipline at Beijing 2022, but that did not come to pass. The recommended events were to be parallel slaloms...which is experiencing frustrations as an Olympic alpine event introduced at Pyeongchang 2018, and struggles to find interest on the World Cup circuit. Perhaps if FIS scrapped the Alpine parallel (and kept the Alpine combined!), and re-tried telemark parallel, there'd be more distinction to drum better IOC interest.
Speed skiing is the other winter FIS discipline besides telemark not on the Games' schedule. But it did have its chance. As a demonstration sport at Albertville 1992, speed skiing's competition was tragically marred by Nicolas Bochatay's fatal training crash, and the IOC hasn't come close to touching it since.
The simple sport - single racers flying down a steep slope in aerodynamic suits and pushing the pedometer (highest speed down the hill wins) - has continued on, though. Men's and women's world records (each over 150mph) were set in 2016, and speed skiing continues to attract its passionate and committed adventure-seekers in an annual world Cup.
The International Orienteering Federation (IOF) has held a World Championship since 1975, with Russians and Scandinavians dominating the sport that combines "navigation and cross-country skiing across a rough terrain". Athletes have to read maps to determine a course and navigate!
'SkiO' is a 'Recognized Olympic Sport' with history before 1900, and is a part of the FISU Winter Universiade program. And, the summer version is in the World Games. Beyond, there doesn't seem to be much record of the IOF pursuing deeper involvement. The inclusion of ski mountaineering for the 2026 Games may complicate matters, too - although a different sport that combines alpine touring with mountaineering, it may be too similar to orienteering for a layman audience.
It's not strictly practiced on snow or ice - a long-held definition of a "winter sport" - but cross-country running traditionally occurs in the fall and well into winter. In fact, the most recent World Championships (2019) was in the cold-weather of March in Denmark. And with host cities increasingly not needing to be idyllic snow-covered towns - think again of Vancouver and potential candidate Barcelona - that's really not as much of a barrier anymore.
Track & field is often seen as a signature sport of the Summer Olympics, and cross-country was included in three editions from Stockholm 1912 through Paris 1924. But as the discipline grew, it grew out a summer schedule.
Including the well-established discipline in the Winter Games would bring track & field into both Games - a first of any sport. Plus, it would immediately bring significantly more global engagement to the Winter Olympics, with East African nations perennial top competitors. World Athletics unsuccessfully proposed inclusion at summer's Paris 2024, so maybe a better attempt is re-focusing on winter.
Yes, it's a thing! The International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) has been developing a snowed-in version of beach volleyball to emphasize "volleyball anytime, any place, anywhere". Although the idea of volleyball on the snow has been around for longer, formal competition began in 2009 with a Snow Volleyball Tour in Austria.
The FIVB's efforts to grow the sport, including a planned Youth Olympic Winter Games appearance, have been thwarted by the current Covid-19 crisis, so post-pandemic time will tell if the sport can get back on track in development.
While snow volleyball didn't make it to Lausanne 2020's Youth Olympic Winter Games, 3x3 ice hockey did debut. While originally conceived as a fresh way to engage multi-national development in the sport, the International Ice Hockey Federation now sees the new, fast discipline as a good way to solidify ice hockey's foothold in the Games, much as 3x3 basketball and rugby sevens have succeeded in summer editions.
Seeing 3x3 hockey make it to the Games ahead of longer-requesting sports like bandy doesn't sound right, but it may just fit the IOC's "urban and youth-oriented" call better.
Sport climbing appeared at Tokyo 2020 and will expand at Paris 2024. So, why not ice climbing? The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation holds world cup and world championship events for both lead and sprint disciplines. While Russian athletes have dominated in recent years, overall world cup medalists have come from Switzerland, South Korea, Iran, France, and Italy.
One might think it a challenge to ensure a natural ice wall...but artificial ones can be had, fit for an urban venue. And, ice climbing's increasing popularity has spurred administrators' eyes toward the Olympics.