Curling People Now – The next new events at the Winter Olympics, and previewing Day 5, Wednesday Feb 9

What new events are next?

As time passes, the popularity of the Winter Olympics grows. A large part of this growth is due to the inclusion of a number of new, crowd-pleasing events.

Thirty years ago, in Albertville, just 57 events were contested, about half of the 109 events of Beijing. Back in 1992, there was no snowboarding, and almost no freestyle skiing. Women’s hockey hadn’t come onto the scene, nor had the skeleton.

There are seven new events at the 2022 Olympics, mostly adding to the gender diversity mix. The women’s monobob has joined the bobsleigh ranks, and mixed events in short track speed skating, aerials, ski jumping and snowboard cross. The popular big air also added a freeski event, of which the men’s is on today.

In 2026, ski mountaineering will be added to the schedule, an interesting inclusion to the schedule. Other events have been trialled in the past, including the Winter Pentathlon, Bandy, Dog Sled Racing, Equestrian events, Speed Skiing and Ski Ballet.

Sport federations have lobbied for other more modern alternatives, including a women’s portion of the Nordic Combined, a Synchronized Figure Skating event, Telemark Skiing and more Parallel Skiing. Even the natural luge, raced on a less steep natural track, rather than the concrete and ice contraptions, has been mooted.

To keep growing the spectacle, the Olympics will need to continue to think outside the box, maybe even to snow bike racing, downhill tubing, or things even wilder and woollier.

The Medals

There’s just the six gold medals up for grabs today, spread across skiing, sliding, skating and snowboarding.

Freestyle skiing – Men’s big air (1445 AEDT)

The women’s big air final yesterday was an epic three way battle, and the men’s final is shaping up as similarly open. The big air combines speed with vertical, sending athletes flying.

Swedish medal hope Henrik Harlaut is one of the more enigmatic athletes in the Olympics, preaching Wu Tang to the masses in 2014. He can also go very large on the snow.

Fellow Swede Oliwer Magnusson is the current World Champion, but solid competition will come from across the field.

Watch rating: 4/5.

Alpine skiing – Women’s slalom (1645 AEDT)

This is the real technical end of skiing, one for the turning and line purists. Skiers charge the poles, looking for the tightest lines on turns with the plastic sticks whipping back beneath them.

Skiers use a shorter ski, usually with a tighter turning circle than their speed distance colleagues. Where downhill skis have a minimum length of 210cm, the slalom ski is just 155cm. This means the speeds are lower, but will still be more than you can travel legally in most cars on your commute to work.

Skiers will have two runs to nail, with a mistake in either run knocking them out of contention. The faves coming in are Petra Vlhová and Mikaela Shiffrin, but alpine events have been known to be volatile at times. For Shiffrin, the pressure from the American fans has been high, with expectations of a gold rush building over time.

Watch rating: 4/5.

Snowboarding – Women’s snowboard cross (1845 AEDT)

If the alpine races are like long track speed skating, then the cross events are like the short track.

Those who have riden or skied a cross track know that timing of everything is critical to maintaining speed. Mistime a jump, or pick the wrong angle for a corner, and you could go from first to last. Adding difficulty is the fact that you are sharing a course with three to five fellow riders, all looking for the best line down.

The qualifying runs usually split out the major hopes, but they have to battle each other sooner or later. The medal hopes come all across the board, from defending champion Michela Moioli to current world cup leader and World Champion Charlotte Brookes and former five-time World Champion Lindsey Jacobellis. Australian eyes will be on Belle Brockhoff, a veteran racer who has been in contention across the past few years.

Watch rating: 4/5

Nordic Combined – Individual normal hill (2200 AEDT)

Somebody, at some time, decided to combine the thrills of ski jumping with the sheer stability of cross-country skiing. Welcome to Nordic Combined, a sport that linguistically sounds like it was built for the Norwegians. And seemingly was. Norway have won 31 medals in the event, more than double that of any other nation.

The Nordic Combined is the only event on the program which is still male-only, with attempts to add a women’s event rebuffed over the years.

The event is spiced up by having a “pursuit” finish, with athletes starting out in intervals on the cross country course based on how well they do in the ski jump part. It often leads to grandstand finishes, as the strengths of each athlete play off against each other.

Still, it would be far more fascinating if they had to start the race after finishing the ski jump.

Watch rating: 2/5.

Luge – Doubles (2320 AEDT)

This is notionally an open gender event but the first female team to make a world cup only happened in 2019 and it’s still an all male affair at these games. The future of gender equity in Olympic luge is probably a new women’s doubles event from 2026, with FIL applying for inclusion in Milan.

It’s also a pretty weird watch, with two athletes squeezed on top of each other.

In terms of medal prospects, it’s luge, so the Germans Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt are favourites, alongside the Germans Toni Eggert and Sascha Benecken.

Watch rating: 1.5/5.

Short track speed skating – Men’s 1500m (AEDT 0020)

This is a typically open short track speed skating field. China’s Ren Ziwei, who won the 1000m gold on Monday, will be looking for a double given he led the standings at this distance in the most recent world cup. Shaolin Sándor Liu of Hungary, who was disqualified at the finish in the 1000m final, is also backing up from there, and he made the final in 2018 in this event.

Any number of other contenders loom, including the Dutch Sjinkie Knegt who holds the world record and won the silver in 2018, and the 2018 gold medallist Lim Hyo-jun, who has switched from South Korea to China. The top three at this year’s world championship were Canada’s Charles Hamelin, the Netherlands’ Itzhak de Laat and Russian Semion Elistratov,, respectively.

In short, a lot of very good speed skaters are a chance of getting the right run.

Watch rating: 4/5.

Alternative Medal Tally

There’s a certain type of skiing purist on the winter slopes who look down on others (ie snowboarders) and wish they weren’t there getting in the way. What if they ran the Winter Olympics, and the only events allowed were those on skis?

It should surprise nobody that the Norwegians would have an absolute stranglehold on this skis-only Olympics, the nation of just 5 million (about the same as Queensland) having nearly twice as many golds as nearest rivals Russia and Germany.

The rest of the top rungs are the Alpine and Arctic European countries, with the Canadians and Americans perhaps surprisingly far back in the pack.

Australia, for its part, sits a credible 18th in the skis-only medal table with four freestyle skiing golds to its name so far and the only southern hemisphere nation with a gold.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *