The International Olympic Committee Executive Board voted on Monday to include four new events in the 2018 Olympic program. Big air snowboarding, mixed doubles curling, mass start speedskating and a team event in alpine skiing will all make their Olympic debuts at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Members of the IOC used a number of criteria to determine the sports’ deservedness for inclusion in the next Winter Games, including youth appeal, attractiveness for television, media and the general public, gender equality, added value and minimum impact on the number of events and/or quotas.
“The changes reflect the continued evolution of the Winter Olympic program and build on the success of recent editions of the games,” the IOC said in a statement. “They also build on the reforms outlined in Olympic Agenda 2020, which aim to create more flexibility into the Olympic program of the Olympic Games.”
Here’s a look at the four new events.
Big Air Snowboarding
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association was among those lobbying for the inclusion of big air snowboarding and skiing events, although skiing was not approved. In big air, snowboarders launch off a ramp similar to what’s used in slopestyle and perform their most difficult tricks while also getting the greatest height and distance. They complete as many jumps as possible within a set amount of time. Following the success of slopestyle’s debut in the 2014 Winter Games, the addition of big air brings another sport that appeals to youth to the forefront. It debuted at the 2003 FIS Snowboarding World Championships and was a part of the FIS World Cup tour in 2015.
“Having big air in the Olympics is super exciting for me,” said Tyler Walker, a 2014 slopestyle Olympian from Stowe, Vermont, who won the first women’s big air world cup this season in Turkey. “I've always felt that the strongest point of my riding has been jumping. It’s great that there is an event that highlights the jumps specifically, and I’m looking forward to potentially competing in big air and slopestyle in 2018. I loved the energy that surrounded the big air world cup in Turkey and I know it's going to be even bigger and better in PyeongChang.”
Team USA member Sage Kotsenburg won the inaugural men’s slopestyle snowboarding event in Sochi and has also competed in big air competitions, winning bronze in the 2011 Winter X Games.
“As we have all seen with the addition of halfpipe into the Olympics, it became a viewer favorite,” Kotsenburg said in a USSA release prior to the announcement. “When slopestyle was added, it was also one of the favorites with the third most streams of the entire Games and one of the most watched sports. With big air, it would bring even more snowboarding to the world and, if we do it right it, would benefit snowboarding and the Olympics. I would actually be really excited about big air being in the Olympics. The first and foremost important thing I would like to see happen would be figuring out the best format that would benefit the riders and the viewers.”
Team Alpine Skiing
In the alpine team skiing event, teams consisting of two men and two women compete in head-to-head slalom races. The event was first contested at the FIS Alpine Ski World Championships in 2005 and was popular with fans at the 2015 world championships in Vail and Beaver Creek, Colorado, where Austria took gold followed by Canada and Sweden.
Team USA’s last podium in the alpine team event came in March 2014 when David Chodounsky, Tim Jitloff, Julia Mancuso and Mikaela Shiffrin combined to finish second at the FIS Alpine World Cup Finals nations team event.
“The alpine team event is a valuable event that has provided spectators and media with a new, very visual format that creates a high level of excitement,” USSA Alpine Program Director Patrick Riml said in a news release. “It has been quite successful at world championships and at the world cup finals and will be a great way to showcase our star athletes at the Olympics.”
Mass Start Speedskating
Mass start speedskating was contested over six races in 2014-15 with Canada’s Ivanie Blondin winning the world cup. The United States did not medal in any of the events. The highest-ranked American was Heather Richardson, who competed in two of the six races and finished 18th overall but was fourth in the last race of the season. U.S. athletes also fell short of medals in the men’s mass start world cup series.
KC Boutiette, a four-time Olympic long track speedskater, recently returned to the sport at age 44 in hopes of competing in the mass start.
“It’s much more exhilarating to see,” Boutiette said of the 16-lap event. “At the finish of a race — boom! — you know who won right then and there rather than watching pairs skate 10,000 meters and seeing who wins the race two hours later. It’s kind of where the sport’s headed. With my skill set from my previous experience in racing marathons (100-lap pack races) many years in Holland, it’s going to be my best bet.”
Mixed Doubles Curling
Olympic curling has been dominated since 1998 by Canada, Norway and Switzerland on the men’s side and Canada, Sweden and Switzerland on the women’s side, leaving open the possibility for some newcomers to medal in the new format. The U.S. men earned the bronze medal in Torino in 2006 and finished ninth in Sochi in 2014. The U.S. women have never medaled at the Games, but won the world championships in 2003 and finished runner-up in 2005 and 2006.