What’s Next, Synchronized Slopestyle?

Josh Haner/The New York Times

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Having covered the last six Winter Olympics, and now one Summer Olympics in Sochi, I felt quite safe in saying that these Games, be they frozen or thawed, did not need a team luge event.

Men’s singles, women’s singles and doubles luge — all part of the Olympic program since 1964 — certainly seemed more than sufficient for a niche-within-a-niche sport, which only the Germans, apparently, are now allowed to win.

The luge world might be clamoring for more luge, but the wider world clearly is not. In fact, the Cesana Pariol sliding track, built in a formerly pristine Italian mountain village for the 2006 Turin Games, has since been closed because of a lack of funding and support.

But there is sound logic, and then there is Olympic reality. So with a world-weary sigh, I trudged up the hill (O.K., descended from the minivan) on Thursday night to attend the Olympic debut of — yes, you sensed it coming — team luge.

“Thank you,” the public-address announcer boomed to the spectators, “for being part of Olympic history.”

You are welcome, but for the moment there is clearly a pioneer glut in the Winter Games.

In 1992, when I covered my first Winter Olympics, in Albertville, France, there were 57 events. That was admittedly not a great deal of programming for the 16 days of the Games.

But the whole thing was cozy, comprehensible and, unlike the Summer Olympics, which can sometimes feel like a sprawling, rebranded batch of world championships, the Winter Games offered plenty of time and opportunity to get acquainted with any given day’s gold medalists.

There are nearly twice as many champions to learn about now.

By 1998, when snowboarding arrived, the event count was up to 68. By 2006, when snowboard cross arrived, it was up to 84.

Eight years later, the Winter Games, up to 98 events, have even added an extra day of competition before the opening ceremony.

“On some days you have to make choices now, it is true,” said Christophe Dubi, the International Olympic Committee’s sports director.

The worthy quest for gender equity is only part of the explanation for the growth. (With the addition of women’s ski jumping this year, the only discipline remaining that does not include both sexes is Nordic combined, which should soon be corrected.)

So where does the great expansion stop? Perhaps not for a while, given that the 2012 London Summer Olympics had 302 events in 26 sports.

But for those of us inclined to think that less is more, Dubi is reassuring.

“I think if you look at the use of the current venues that we have, the program is full as far as the ice rinks are concerned,” he said, adding, “We have room for a handful of events, yet probably we are getting extremely close to what organizers can bear.”

It is not as if the Winter Games are adding sports: There are still only seven winter sports federations involved. The creep has come from within those sports. That is a clever way to avoid too many bureaucratic hoops, because when a sport adds a discipline or event it needs approval only from the I.O.C.’s executive board, rather than the full membership.

Dubi said the feeling within the I.O.C. was that the second week of the Winter Games was once short on programming.

“You had a dip in the number of events you could watch, so the thought was, which events could be added which are appealing to the audiences, and why not to the younger generation?” he said.

Enter slopestyle, which frankly makes ski jumping look like yesterday’s thrill-seeking. Enter freestyle skiing halfpipe and snowboarding parallel special slalom. But the growth has also come this year in less trendy zones. See team figure skating, which was held for the first time in Sochi and was won by Russia. See the biathlon mixed relay, to be held Wednesday, in which teams will include two women and two men.

The feeling seems to be, if you have a workable idea and room in your venue schedule, bring it on. The problem is, once you do team luge at the Olympics, why not do team snowboard cross (which, by the way, exists and gets good reviews)? And once you accept mixed biathlon, how long before you start mixing everything?

“It’s almost endless,” Dubi said of the options. “I would say it has to simply add value to the Games, and it has to add value to the sports themselves.”

That hardly sounds like the sort of definition that will stop too many proposals in their tracks. Alpine skiing, which already has 10 events, wants a team event, which already exists in its world championships. Speedskating, which has 12 events, is looking at a mass start option.

So what is truly, definitively out when it comes to the Winter Olympics?

Snowmobiling, an X Games staple, appears to have no chance. (“We don’t do engines,” Dubi said.) Dog-sled racing is not in the mix, either. But there are still long shots like snowshoe racing and bandy, which is played with sticks and a ball on a big sheet of ice and is popular in Sweden. Dubi said he also found ski mountaineering intriguing in the long term, because it is growing, particularly in Europe.

“The main thing for me is to take the pulse with all the consumers, including the younger generation, and make sure we remain relevant,” Dubi said.

That brings us back to team luge, which, in the face of all this other change and blue-sky thinking, has begun to seem a rather modest proposal.

It is not an obvious concept. You cannot hand off a baton when you are at the bottom of the track and your teammate is marooned back on top. But prospective Olympic inclusion is a creative engine.

The answer is a dangling touch pad at the finish. Once lugers whack the timing mechanism, their teammates get the signal to push out of the start.

The system malfunctioned when I.O.C. officials first observed it, at the world championships in Cesana Pariol in 2011.

“They had some problems, but it was quickly solved,” Dubi said. “It’s pretty cool now, actually.”

It is difficult to argue, actually, and there will certainly be no argument from the four Germans — Natalie Geisenberger, Felix Loch and the doubles team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt — who were all jumping in unison in the finish area on Thursday to celebrate their gold medal.

That is the problem, of course. Once you have seen Olympians celebrating and slapping one another’s gloves nearly as hard as that dangling touch pad, it suddenly feels meanspirited to deprive future Olympians of the same opportunity, even if that opportunity is team luge.

“You know, it’s an individual sport,” the American luger Erin Hamlin said. “So it’s really, really cool for us to get the chance to race with our teammates, too.”

In Other News

© 2020 US News. All Rights Reserved.