Dominique Gisin and Tina Maze may not quite be household names in the world of sport but during the women’s downhill skiing event at Sochi, they became the first athletes to share a Winter Olympics gold medal. Similarly, Matthias Mayer won the men’s equivalent earlier in the week despite not having won a World Cup race during the winter season, yet his name was barely mentioned beforehand and he may soon disappear from the media spotlight as the games progress. That was not always the case with downhill skiing.
Along with the slaloms, ice hockey and the ice skating, downhill skiing was once perceived as the main sport of the Winter Olympics with stars such as Fenchman Jean-Claude Killy and Austrian Franz Klammer adding a touch of panache to the sport with their daring efforts.
Nowadays the skiing events tend to be absorbed within the increasing number of events prevalent in the modern Winter Olympics with individual media attention tending to favour those sports in which a home based entrant is deemed to hold a decent chance of a medal.
There has been plenty coverage this week of both the snowboarding and curling events and which has drawn an array of contrasting viewpoints. Cynics have argued that the curling is just a winter version of crown green bowling while snowboarding is a skateboard event for the winter. The curling and snowboarding disciplines first became official Olympic sports in 1998 but nobody can deny that a fair degree of technicality is required in performing to a high standard and their mere existence in the Olympic spectrum adds to the variety of the games.
Although skiing has always been the main attraction for tourists visiting the winter resorts, actual participation in the competitive sport requires athletes to live within close proximity of suitable pistes so as to maximise their hopes of winning a medal.
As sporting facilities improve in most countries then so does the possibility of developing other sports which are not so dependent on location but can be experienced within the confines of a modern sports arena. The advent of artificial snow and artificial ski slopes are also allowing people to experiment with other sporting ideas and providing opportunities for potential athletes who may not be comfortable with the skiing disciplines.
Skiing, skating and bobsleigh sports will always feature prominently in future Winter Olympic events but as the Sochi games have proved, there is always a place for developing sports which can attract a broad appeal and which also require specialised levels of skill to compete at the highest level.
Assuming this trend continues, it can only be of benefit for the long term future of the winter games.