Watch the 2008 Olympic Games this month and you’ll notice a new addition to the lineup: BMX racing has officially joined the Olympic roster. The high-octane sport replaced two track-cycling events in an attempt by the IOC to attract a younger TV audience. Snowboarding was added to the Winter Games in 1998 for similar reasons. Does the recent inclusion of “alternative” sports like BMX and boarder cross mean we’ll see more adventure sports debuting in future Olympics? Perhaps, but only if they’re TV-friendly.
The IOC votes on the lineup of games before each Olympic event. Sports that have been traditionally included in the games can be voted off the roster and games that have been waiting in the ranks can be voted onto the roster. The IOC has used this voting process since the beginning of the modern Olympic Games, but recently, the board has been ditching some of the traditional sports for those of the more action-packed variety: Out with some of the track-cycling events, in with the high-flying, crash-resplendent BMX race.
“It’s a logical choice when you compare it to the Winter Olympics and what the IOC has been doing as far as adding sports that appeal to younger viewers,” says Andy Lee, communications manager with USA Cycling. “BMX was a logical step in that evolution to help the Olympics maintain relevance.”
So what other traditional sports can we expect to see get tossed in the near future? Baseball, for one. Both baseball and softball were deleted from the 2012 Games in London, but no sport has been named in their place, which many see as a sign that the IOC not only wants to “youth up” the Olympics, but slim it down as well. Race walking, Greco-Roman wrestling, and synchronized swimming are also rumored to be on the chopping block, each having just made the minimum vote count to be kept on the 2012 games.
Cross-country mountain biking and whitewater slalom are already official Olympic sports, and now rock climbing has a chance at becoming an official Olympic event in the future. Sport climbing was recently granted official “recognition” by the IOC, the first step toward becoming a sanctioned Olympic event.
“We hope to be part of the 2012 London Games as a demonstration event,” says Mike Moelter of USA Climbing, adding that climbing is uniquely suited to the IOC’s push for TV-friendly sports. “A climbing competition takes place in a fixed location and offers a level of intimacy between spectators and athletes that you can’t find in other sports. You have some of the world’s fittest athletes wearing tank tops and shorts, playing to the crowd to get them excited.”
While climbers anxiously await their turn to be included in the Olympics, and BMXers revel in their newfound Olympic status, advocates for traditional sports must be wondering which discipline will be put on the chopping block next. My money’s on rhythmic gymnastics.
The Olympic events are constantly evolving. Here’s a look at some of the strangest sports that were part of the Olympics at one time or another.
LIVE PIGEON SHOOTING • Paris Games 1900
Three hundred birds were killed. The Olympic Committee underestimated the mess.
MOTOR BOATING • London Games 1908
Three open water events where heats of power boats went head to head.
DUELING PISTOL SHOOTING • Stockholm Games 1912
Shooters walked 30 paces and shot at mannequins.
TUG-OF-WAR • 1900-1920 Olympic Games
This classic game was part of the Track and Field games and was dominated primarily by European teams.