It’s not unusual for an Olympic program — in Olympic-speak, the list of events competed at each Games — to be tweaked every four years. But there is an agenda behind the changes for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics — literally.
Olympic Agenda 2020 is an International Olympic Committee initiative designed to even the number of men and women competing in each Games. To move toward that goal, four events were added to the 2018 program. Here is a rundown:
Men’s and women’s mass start, Feb. 24
Yes, it is what you think it is: Twenty-four skaters will line up for the final, in rows of six, and try to find a tactical advantage. No one can pass on the first lap, but it’s every skater for himself (or herself) in the final 15 circuits of the 400-meter oval.
“The best way I could describe it would be NASCAR on ice,” U.S. speedskater Joey Mantia said. “There is bumping. There is drafting. There is strategy . . . It’s definitely more exciting to watch than standard long-track races.”
But it’s not just a knockdown, drag-out competition. Throughout the race there are four intermediate sprints, including one at the end, and points are awarded to the top three finishers in each sprint. So the first three finishers to cross the finish line are not necessarily the gold, silver and bronze medalists, although they get points as well. The skaters with the top three point totals head to the medal stand.
The field of 24 will be composed of the eight fastest skaters from each of three semifinals. A typical race might be 7 minutes 30 seconds for men and a little more than eight minutes for women.
Mass start is not a new format among Winter Olympic sports: Biathlon, cross-country skiing and short-track speedskating also use mass starts. But a mass start long-track speedskating event has been held at just one Olympics, in 1932 in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Mixed doubles, Feb. 8-13
If you have curled in school or with a club team — or just for fun — you probably competed with both men and women. In PyeongChang, eight countries will field a team of one man and one woman.
Expect the event to move faster than a typical curling match. The emphasis will be on stone positioning, angles and play in the 4-foot circle.
Both teams play five stones each and start every end with a pre-placed stone, meaning the maximum number of points available is six in each end (curling’s equivalent of an inning).
Each game is eight ends long, with an extra end played to break ties, and teams have 22 minutes of “thinking time” per game.
Siblings Becca and Mike Hamilton will represent the United States in mixed doubles, as well as competing in the women’s and men’s competitions.
Men’s and women’s big air, Feb. 23 and 24
This event may help even the gender numbers, but it also has great appeal as an X Games sport. As the name suggests, it’s all about getting height and time to perform intricate moves.
Snowboarders ride down a ramp and launch into the air, performing a single trick before landing. Competitors get three attempts, and they can repeat the same trick or do different ones. Six judges award marks for height, difficulty, style and landing quality. The highest and lowest scores from each run are thrown out, and the remaining scores are added for an average. The two best scores for each competitor are combined to determine a winner.
The big air ramp in PyeongChang is the highest in the world at about 160 feet and has a 40-degree slope, which gives the athletes longer “hang time.” Big air tricks include a frontside 1080 — perhaps the most difficult in the sport — a backside 1440 and a double cork.
Most of the other snowboarding events will be held at Bokwang Snow Park, but a special ramp was built at Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre to showcase both big air events.
Mixed team, Feb. 24
The mixed team event is unusual in the very individual world of Alpine skiing.
Sixteen teams will compete in a knockout format. Each will consist of two men and two women, with two others in reserve.
In each race, two athletes from different teams race side-by-side down identical slalom courses. A race takes no more than 25 seconds. The order is woman-man-woman-man. Teams get one point for a win. If competing teams each win two races, the nation with the lowest combined time of the best man and best woman will win the heat.
The event was first held at the 2005 skiing world championships.
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