SBD/February 24, 2014/Olympics

More Extreme Sports Could Be Added To Olympics As Youthful Resurgence Felt In Sochi

Team snowboardcross could potentially be added to the Olympic program
The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association, "buoyed by the success of slopestyle and other new action sports" at this year's Sochi Games, is "hatching a plan to bring a few more high-flying athletes into the mix," according to Eddie Pells of the AP. USSA President & CEO Bill Marolt said, "We're working on some things. There's definitely a possibility some new events could be added." Pells reported Marolt did not "get into specifics, but there have been conversations in international circles about two events: a team snowboardcross race and Big Air." Team snowboardcross "is a relay version of the bang-'em-up version of snowboard racing, in which six riders line up and race their way down the hill, side-by-side," while Big Air is "essentially a 'Best Of' slopestyle contest, in which the rails and kickers are ditched and riders simply do jump after jump off a highly pitched ramp." The U.S. "won 12 medals at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park," while Canada took 11. The message "was clear: These two countries worked hardest to bring these sports into the Olympics." They "knew there were medals to be won and they knew the sports would sell to TV networks back home." NBC paid $775M to televise the games, and that is "the biggest single chunk of money the IOC brings in." Marolt: "We saw what snowboarding brought, and we looked around and saw what freeskiing could bring. When the IOC looked at it, it was about the same time NBC was looking for sports that were relative to the youth market. It worked out well" (AP, 2/23).

BORN IN THE USA: In Buffalo, Jerry Sullivan wrote competing "away from the home continent certainly didn’t hurt the U.S. extreme sports athletes." The U.S. had a "combined 10 medals -- including five of the country’s nine overall golds -- in slopestyle, halfpipe or snowboard cross events." The men’s and women’s ski and snowboard slopestyle events "were in the Olympics for the first time," as were "men’s and women’s ski halfpipe and the snowboard parallel slalom." USOC Sports Performance Chief Alan Ashley said, "I can’t tell you for sure where we’re going to end up four years from now. We don’t control that. But I’m encouraged by what’s going on here, and I would love us to look at new opportunities. They’re exciting, they bring new athletes in and keep the Winter Games evolving in a very positive way." Sullivan noted extreme sports "also do well on TV, one reason the ratings are high for these Games" (BUFFALO NEWS, 2/23). In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz wrote, "It seems whenever the Olympics put new sports into the quadrennial program, the U.S tends to dominate. Ah, the power of domestic American television" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 2/23). In Miami, Michelle Kaufman wrote slopestyle skiing "looks great on TV and a U.S. medal sweep ... was welcome back home" (MIAMI HERALD, 2/23).

GOING MAINSTREAM: In Minneapolis, Chip Scoggins wrote snowboarding’s "continued growth in mainstream appeal has made it a popular Olympic sport and brought new eyeballs to the Games." Traditionalists "might not appreciate a well-executed double cork 1080, but the IOC isn’t about to try to put toothpaste back into the tube" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/23). In Chicago, Eric Zorn wrote under the header, "Newer Sports Took The Gold For Excitement." Though snowboardcross and skicross are "relatively new extreme sports," they "best exemplify an ancient essence of athletic competition: Let's race!" Zorn: "No judges. No impenetrable scoring systems. No sequins. No points for artistry. No deductions for minor wobbles" (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 2/23). In Newark, Steve Politi wrote, "Give Team USA credit: They knew it was a matter of time before these X-Games sports were added to the Olympics, and it put a system in place to develop and train athletes. Plus, the medalists were always an entertaining breath of fresh air. Party on, dudes" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 2/23).

BUILT TO LAST: USA TODAY's Kelly Whiteside notes U.S. officials are "expecting interest in action sports to continue because of the success in Sochi." USSA CMO Mike Jaquet said, "The reason they're going to become popular is because America loves winners and falls in love with these youthful kids. These sports will naturally produce the type of personality that America loves." Whiteside notes because the sport "has been gaining in popularity over the last decade, industry experts expect the explosion to continue." The freeskiing movement has "helped reverse the ski industry's declining sales." Unlike other Olympic sports, extreme ones "don't disappear between the four-year cycle." The Winter X Games is "held yearly and broadcast on ESPN's networks." Plus there is "Dew Tour and USSA Grand Prix events" (USA TODAY, 2/24).
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