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My Solution to the 2014 Winter Olympics Problem No One Discusses

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During the Opening Ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Matt Lauer mentioned that there are 88 countries represented in Sochi, a record amount of countries at a Winter Games. These 88 countries include Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Venezuela, & Zimbabwe, who all sent just one athlete to the Games. I guess that makes it easy to pick who will carry the flag for these countries! This also leads to an interesting anecdote in that Mexico has over 100 million residents, but only one Winter Olympic athlete, while Monaco has only 30,000 people, yet has five athletes in Sochi. Meanwhile, over 200 countries sent athletes to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Olympic RingsThe easy explanation for the discrepancy between the amount of countries in the Winter and Summer Games are the events and the climates. There are 15 sports at the Winter Olympics (Figure Skating is considered one sport even though there are five different medal events – Men’s singles, Ladies’ singles, Pairs, Team and Ice Dancing – within figure skating) compared to 28 Summer Olympics sports (again, these are overall categories so volleyball and beach volleyball are together).

Less events means less athletes. In addition, you’re not going to find many ski slopes in Central America or the Middle East, so there’s not going to be athletes from these countries competing in the skiing or snowboarding events.

While Olympic officials won’t say this, the Winter Olympics are primarily for the wealthiest and most developed countries. However, this doesn’t need to be the case anymore. The Winter Olympics were designed to occur in mountainous areas for the winter sports. Major cities like Los Angeles could never host the Winter Olympics since there isn’t a luge track next to the Rose Bowl. That’s why Lake Placid, a village with about 2,500 residents, hosted two Olympic Games.

Things have changed in recent years. Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics but held the alpine events in Whistler, two hours away. Sochi is the real game-changer though. Russia spent $51 billion on these games, creating countless facilities and venues. Although the 2018 Winter Olympics will take place in the ski resort town of Pyeongchang, South Korea, Seoul isn’t that far away.

I’m getting slightly off-track here. My solution to having a more inclusive Winter Olympics is to move some of the Summer events to the Winter Games. Events like boxing, judo, weightlifting, table tennis and non-beach volleyball could certainly be held during the Winter Games. These are all indoor events that could be held in any climate. Sure, this may involve host countries spending more money to build new venues, but after Russia’s investment in Sochi, the International Olympic Committee would simply factor this into the application process for cities to host the Winter Olympics. Besides, this would allow more sports to continue to be Olympic events.

Wrestling recently fought to survive as an Olympic sport while baseball and softball were cut. Instead of cutting sports, the Olympics could keep baseball and softball as a summer event and move wrestling (or fencing) to the winter.

Now, can we get NBC to show more live events?

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  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    Countries like Cuba have been very competitive in boxing because the sport is supported in Cuba. Athletes like Teofilo Stevenson have done extremely well. It’s not likely that every country will be the best across a wide spectrum of sports although the Western countries tend to capture more gold and silver medals.

    Sports like boxing and wrestling have been in the Olympics for centuries and that trend should continue. The winter sports tend to favor countries like Russia and the Republics, Canada, the USA, Mongolia and the northern European/Nordic countries like Iceland.