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SOCHI, Russia — Of the 12 new events added to the Sochi Olympic program, probably the most outre is the luge team relay, which premiered Thursday night under the lights.
Each team begins with a female luger, followed by a male slider, then a doubles pair, each sitting up at the finish line to slap a tongue-shaped pad that enables the next team member to start, or — in the case of the last sliders — stops the clock.
The IOC decided to put it on the program in 2011, only four years after the event was born.
The day the luge relay was conferred its 2014 medal status, Josef Fendt, the president of the sport’s international governing body, said, “It is a very emotional and historic decision.”
If a trio of supine sledders can unite to become Olympic medalists, imagine what events future Winter Games could hold.
The IOC charter mandates that all winter Olympic sports be contested on snow or ice, so, unless it is amended, there will never be bridge or ballroom dancing medals awarded in January or February.
Until 2005, there was also a stipulation against motorized sports, so that would have ruled out freestyle snowmobile events at the games — but now they’re a possibility.
Still, the IOC usually leans toward tradition.
Under that criterion, it could add skijoring, which was a demonstration event at the 1928 St. Moritz games and featured a mass start in which eight skiers were pulled by horses over a frozen lake in the Swiss Alps.
But history isn’t enough. The IOC considers six other main criteria: whether a sport has an international governing body (which skijoring does); universality (how widely it is practiced); popularity; image; cost; and “athlete health,” which means complying with World Anti-Doping Agency code and, preferably, a dearth of violations.
So that opens up the possibility of telemark skiing (racing through gates on skinny Nordic skis), synchronized skating (akin to synchronized swimming on ice) and speed skiing, which was a 1992 Olympic demonstration sport. In speed skiing, athletes wear rubberized suits, tapered helmets and aerodynamic fairings behind their boots to reach speeds of up to 155 mph while bolting downhill in a straight line.
Those three are under the purview of well-established institutions like the International Ski Federation (FIS) or the International Skating Union (ISU), which, together, control most of the other core winter disciplines. That affiliation, in turn, makes it easier to gain IOC votes.
But ice climbingcould also make a compelling bid, as could snowshoe racing, which crowned its 2014 world champions just two weeks ago in Sweden in the 4x400-meter relay and a 9-kilometer endurance race.
Broomball, too, is internationally organized and holds championships — but it would require extra arenas, which could be costly.
In a similar vein, it would be unlikely to see barrel jumping (an old ABC “Wide World of Sports” staple), which would fail the universality test, at minimum.
Ice sculpture also has several strikes against it, even though it features prominently in the spectacularly popular snow and ice festival in Harbin, China. The odds may be higher that the IOC would reintroduce dog sledding after a more than 80-year Olympic hiatus before we see laser ice cutters marching in an opening ceremony.
Of course, crashes are always popular, and now that snowboard cross and ski cross are in the games, it might be time to add something similar to the Red Bull–sponsored “Crashed Ice” event — which is part motocross (minus the moto), part hockey (by way of checking and footwear) and part luge (because skaters race, albeit upright, down an icy chute).
But whatever the future holds, at least for now we will always have the luge team relay.