Almost half of the record 98 events being held at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games were either not held 20 years ago at Lillehammer or have been substantially modified. The Olympics as a global sports event are not stationary but must adapt and evolve in response to changing demands, just as the remarkable athletes who are competing do. While the Winter Olympics program has steadily grown since Chamonix in 1924, the rate of development has greatly accelerated in the last 20 years. Three factors seem to be instrumental. First, the Winter Olympics program has become more gender balanced. Female hockey teams are battling for gold, and this year women will compete in ski jumping for the first time. Most Winter Olympics sports have equal numbers of events for men and women today, although female participation still lags somewhat behind. Second, many traditional events have been modified by sport-governing bodies toward a more “TV friendly” format. Time-trial starts have been replaced by mass or group starts. “Sprint” and team events have been added to spice up traditional sports like cross-country skiing and speed skating. Finally “extreme” sports like half-pipe and ski-cross have crossed over from the X Games to the Olympics, with some arguing that the Olympics need these popular sports more than the X Games sports need the Olympics. All of these changes create new research questions for sport scientists who are also willing to adapt and evolve.
The author is with the Faculty of Health and Sport Sciences, University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway.