This winter, seven new medal events have been added to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, including freestyle skiing big air, monobob, and five new team disciplines, which aim to promote gender equality. Last year, a similar pattern emerged in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, when five new sports were added to the competition, including skateboarding, sports climbing, surfing, karate, and baseball/softball.
These new additions only mean one thing: the Olympics are becoming more inclusive of a wide variety of sports. Extreme sports that strongly appeal to the youth are now headlining. The Olympics serve as a champion of sports excellence amidst both professionals and amateurs. They can motivate anyone to take up a snowboard instructor course, for example, or discover the joys of figure skating.
Extreme sports are popular amongst those who are looking for a thrill. Thankfully, they’re also sensational to watch. While some adventure sports fall on the deadly end of the spectrum, such as wingsuit flying and free soloing, others can be performed safely.
Freestyle skiing big air, surfing, and sports climbing are examples of the latter. We explore the journey of these disciplines to the Olympics and Team GB’s participation.
Freestyle skiing big air
During the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics, freestyle snowboard big air was introduced to the Olympic stage. This time around, freestyle skiing big air is making its Olympic debut at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Medal events have been held for both men and women, which is in line with the Games’ mission to reinforce gender equality.
Freestyle skiing big air is not a new sport on the horizon, rather it’s been an integral part of the Winter X Games, as well as other action sports events, for quite some time. Similar to snowboard big air, skiers speed down a ramp and jump into the air, where they perform daring tricks, then land. Competitors are judged on the best of three runs based on trick difficulty, height, execution, and landing.
Some might wonder what the difference between Freestyle skiing big air and aerials, which has been an Olympic staple since 1994, is. While both disciplines are performed on large ramps, aerialists take off from a steeper ramp, which helps them jump higher, and they’re judged on precise form and technique. On the contrary, freestyle skiing big air performers launch from a flatter ramp, which allows them to clear a large gap. They can also land forwards or backwards and do flips or spins to showcase their individual style, as well as grab their skis in the air.
“That’s kind of the beauty of our sport: no one does one trick the same,” two-time Olympian Alex Hall said. He is competing in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in this category.
The events will take place at the Beijing Big Air Shougang ramp, built on top of a former steel mill. It will remain there after the games, making it the first permanent large air ramp in the world.
Team Great Britain was represented by 17-year-old Kirsty Muir, who finished fourth with a series of impressive jumps.
Surfing is not only considered an extreme sport but also the most difficult event at the Olympics. Success is dependent on weather conditions and the judgement process is known for its subjectivity.
During the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, 20 men and 20 women competed on shortboards for the first time. The IOC referred to the inclusion of surfing as part of the Games as “the most comprehensive evolution” in the history of the Olympics.
The early rounds consisted of four- or five-person heats while the main event featured head-to-head contests, where the winner proceeds. The scores were based on the degree of difficulty, execution of moves, variety, speed, and more.
Unfortunately, the UK wasn’t represented at the Tokyo Games. Hopefully the Paris 2024 Olympics will see Team Great Britain grabbing the gold.
Rock climbing is one of the oldest extreme sports and can be incredibly dangerous. Solo climbing, for example, involves rock climbing at great heights without any protective gear. This means that falling from a climb can be deadly.
What differentiates sport climbing from traditional climbing is that sports competitors have protection through ropes. At the Paris 2024 Olympics, three forms of sport climbing competitions will be featured, including lead climbing, bouldering, and speed climbing.
Lead climbing involves scaling a 15-metre wall as high as possible in a set period of time without falls. The goal of bouldering is to overcome as many obstacles as possible on the routes. Competitors are judged based on the number of obstacles they overcome on a 4.5 metre-high structure within a fixed period of time. Speed climbing, as the name suggests, involves scaling an object as quickly as possible without any falls.
Shauna Coxsey, who represented Team GB in all three climbing categories in Tokyo, explained before the Games that the format is “like asking Usain Bolt to run a marathon and then do the hurdles”.
“No one has really transitioned before. No boulderer has transitioned to speed and lead, and no speed climber has done it to bouldering and lead,” Shauna continued.
The 28-year-old athlete finished 10th overall without proceeding to the final. But the Paris 2024 Olympics are set to expand the roster of competing athletes from 20 men and 20 women to 68 competitors in total. They will have the chance to compete for two separate events: the combined competition of bouldering and lead, and a speed event.
The new event proved popular amongst fans too. In June 2021 there were a total of 1,600 searches, which increased by 313% in July 2021 when the games began. This reached a total search volume of 6,600 and peaked at 9,900 searches in August.
Since the Olympics began in 1896, they have been eponymous with inclusivity, equality, and evolution. The inclusion of an array of new sports and disciplines these past years is a testament to that. Not only is gender inclusivity at the forefront, but the Olympics are also branching out to include more extreme, sensation-inducing sports too. Did you know that breakdancing will be the next new sport added to the Olympics in 2024? That’s what we’re talking about.