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Sochi Just Got a Little Bit More X-treme

Posted: 02/04/2014 11:16 am

Winter Olympics take inspiration from the X Games to attract a younger crowd.

For years, the International Olympic Committee has sought to attract a younger crowd to tune in as the best athletes from around the world battle in sport. In the past, that's meant borrowing events from other competitions that draw such an audience; the inclusion of halfpipe snowboarding, snowboard cross, and ski cross are a few examples.

But never has the Olympics drawn such inspiration from another games as it has for the Sochi Olympics, where half of 12 new events come directly from the Winter X Games -- an action-packed extreme sport competition. The IOC hopes men's and women's halfpipe skiing, snowboard parallel slalom, ski and snowboard slopestyle, and women's ski jumping, will bring the same drama to the Olympics.

"We are very pleased with the addition of ski and snowboard slopestyle and snowboard special slalom in the Olympic Winter Games programme," then-IOC President Jacques Rogge said of the announcement of the new events in 2011. "Such events provide great entertainment for the spectators and add further youthful appeal to our already action-packed line-up of Olympic winter sports."

But as Eddie Pells, who will be reporting from Sochi for the AP, puts it, "This latest move of adding slopestyle and halfpipe is their last gambit on this whole thing." He tells Discovery News -- which notes these games will be the most extreme yet -- that "the Winter Olympics reached a point in the past 10-15 years where they just weren't drawing an audience of anyone under about 50, and they needed to make things more relevant."

Simon "Simba" Tjernström would agree. The Swedish freestyle judge is headed to Sochi to score the slopestyle competition -- an event that was fast-tracked, along with halfpipe, to rejuvenate the Olympic Games, he tells Olympic.ca. Considering that the BBC chose to broadcast live coverage of the X Games' Ski Cross event over an Alpine Skiing gold medal decision during the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, the decision may well pay off.

The IOC may be banking on ski and snowboard slopestyle especially, as the two events have some of the biggest draws at the X Games. Athletes plough down a snow-covered course of rails and jumps, executing spins, grabs, and what at least appear to be other gravity-defying tricks. But whether the Olympic versions can steal the magic of the X Games remains to be seen, and some veterans doubt it's possible.

"The X Games are so big, with the media coverage it's just ridiculous," snowboarder Ethan Morgan told the BBC last year. "So I don't think the Olympics is going to be as big as the X Games has been and is right now."

Three-time X Games champion skier James Woods admits slopestyle is traditionally "free-spirited, like surfing, skating or BMX and when it gets involved with the Olympics then something else comes along -- the whole thing becomes a lot more official." But though "some people didn't think it should be in there because it does take something away from slopestyle," Woods says the two competitions will be "on a par."

Similarly, Great Britain's freestyle skiing coach doesn't think much will be lost in translation. "As long as the IOC don't change our sport to fit it in around them then I think everything is absolutely fine," Pat Sharples told the BBC. "I'm really pleased they haven't changed the rules and regulations of what tricks you're allowed to do because that would be a huge disaster for our sport."

"The Olympics is going to give them a chance to actually show their skills -- everyone is upping their game this year because they want to be able to show what they can do," he continued. But it may be Canadians who have the most to gain from the X Games inspiration. With slopestyle along for the ride, Canada will have its "best-ever prospects" at Sochi, with five medals expected in snowboarding alone, the Globe and Mail notes.

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