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New sports prove a hit in Sochi Games Oly movement heading in right direction

SOCHI, Russia, Feb 26, (RTRS): There was a revolution at the Sochi Olympics that took place right under the noses of the Russian security forces as the whole world watched. But this was an uprising that had everyone’s stamp of approval and changed the Winter Games forever. The International Olympic Committee’s decision to introduce a raft of new events to modernise the programme and appeal to a younger demographic was a blinding success. In the Caucasus mountains high above Sochi, the finishing area at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park took on the appearance of a mosh-pit with young fans hollering and whooping it up with high-fives and fist pumps.

Global television ratings soared as broadcasters gushed about record viewing numbers. Social media, meanwhile, was buzzing with talk about the new events on ice and snow. IOC President Thomas Bach said the overwhelming positive response to the new events showed the Olympic movement was heading in the right direction. “We have to adapt to modern times,” he told Reuters. “We did so in the Winter Games in the past with snowboard and moguls and we have to keep going in this direction and I hope that in the Summer Games we can have progress.” The IOC had been making little tweaks to the programme ever since the Games began but the successful introduction of snowboarding and freestyle skiing in the 1990s persuaded them to fast-track the addition of 12 new events for Sochi.

Eight of those were in the extreme sports. These attracted the coolest and hippest competitors at the Olympics, as much for their jaw-dropping tricks as their cavalier approach to life. The very first medal handed out in Sochi was in men’s snowboard slopestyle, one of the new events, where competitors descend down the mountain through an obstacle course full of rails and jumps, performing outrageously complicated stunts. The winner was Sage Kotsenburg, a scraggy-haired American who decided at the last moment to perform a trick that he invented himself but had never actually tried before.
“I just kind of do random stuff,” he explained with a splash of Generation Y vernacular. “It was sick to do it on the first jump.”

There were four new events for snowboarders in slopestyle and parallel slalom, both for men and women. All had been on the X Games programme for years but the Olympics thrust the events on to a much bigger audience. “Heck yeah, it’s the biggest stage in the world,” said Jamie Anderson, who won the women’s snowboard slopestyle. “X Games is the biggest event in action sports but the Olympics is the biggest in the whole world.” Spectators also got a peek at the brave new world of skiing with the addition of men’s and women’s halfpipe and slopestyle events, and saw some amazing stunts that confounded the millions of people watching it for the first time.

The most startling sight was that of competitors skiing backwards. They did it going down hills, over jumps and rails, on landings and even in the halfpipe. In the slang of extreme sports, it is known simply as a switch, but for everyone else it is a mind-boggling act of skiing the wrong way. Snowboarders have been executing the same trick at the Olympics for years but because they stand with their feet sideways, their subtler version is not always noticeable. “It’s something that maybe looks intimidating and scary at first but everything’s attackable,” David Wise, who won gold in the men’s ski halfpipe, told Reuters. “It’s an action sport, it’s not for the faint of heart.”

The risks are real and the injuries can be serious, even fatal. No-one died in Sochi but dozens of competitors were badly hurt, suffering broken bones, concussion, twisted knees and ankles and bloodied faces. Russian Olympic skicross racer Maria Komissarova suffered the worst injury when she broke her back in a training accident. The 23-year-old underwent two long operations on her spine and had a metal implant inserted. She remains in hospital in serious condition. Not all of the events that were introduced in Sochi were extreme. Three mixed men and women together and another resolved a gender equality dispute. Figure skating held a team event for the first time, which was won by the host-nation Russia, while biathlon added a mixed relay.

Luge also had a relay event, combining men’s and women’s singles and a doubles sled sliding down the track one a time. “It’s a great discipline,” said Felix Loch, who won the men’s singles title and then helped Germany win gold in the relay. “It captures the imagination of the public and really fires up the spectators.” And for the first time, women were allowed to compete in ski jumping after struggling for 13 years to be included. “Our battle to get the women in really became a women’s rights issue and a human rights issue,” said Deedee Corradini, the president of Women’s Ski Jumping USA. “We were fighting for women in all sports and, hopefully, in all aspects of life.”

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