The events overseen by the International Ski Federation (FIS) are always among the most keenly anticipated at every edition of the Olympic Winter Games. Sochi 2014 produced many thrilling and memorable moments, and there are high hopes that the next edition of the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang in 2018 will be every bit as exciting.
“Preparations are moving along very well,” says Jenny Wiedeke, communications manager for the FIS. “The test events we have held so far – in alpine, snowboard and freestyle – have met positive reviews from the athletes and officials. We still have test events planned for our Nordic disciplines later this winter, and they are on schedule to deliver good competitions.
“For people involved in winter sports, and especially the FIS disciplines, the Republic of Korea is largely uncharted territory and presents a unique chance to compete in an entirely new environment. Of course, Olympic competition always brings a natural buzz and excitement for everyone involved, but to have the chance to broaden our horizons is a huge opportunity and one that people are looking forward to.”
Horizons are widening in other ways too. Two FIS events will make their Olympic debuts at PyeongChang 2018; the first of these is a mixed Alpine skiing team event with an innovative format that promises plenty of thrills.
“This has been a favourite among fans and athletes in our World Cup calendar for a while now,” Wiedeke says. “We can’t wait to bring this exciting head-to-head format to the broader Olympic audience. I think even the most casual of viewers will find the event exciting with its short, quick runs and knock-out style format.”
The other newcomer is the snowboarding Big Air event, which promises to thrill old and new fans alike with its complex tricks and breathtaking jumps.
“Getting Big Air added to the Olympic programme has been great for the discipline and has really put it in the spotlight during the lead-up to the Games,” Wiedeke says. “It is generating massive amounts of buzz. With its ability to be stages in urban environments – like Boston, Moscow and Milan – it can appeal to a much wider audience. We have seen amazing fan interest as organisers have turned these competitions into major weekend events.”
In the short term, there is plenty more to hold the attention as athletes look to find their best form ahead of the Games. The FIS Alpine World Ski Championships begin in Piz Nair (SUI) on 6 February, with competition expected to be very stiff.
“What has really jumped off the page so far this season is how wide open all of the World Cup results have been,” Wiedeke says. “From Alpine, to ski jumping, to cross country, nearly every one of our World Cup tours is filled with surprise winners – and that makes each weekend an adventure.”
Can we expect something similar in PyeongChang next year? Wiedeke says there are plenty of emerging names gearing up to challenge the established order when the Olympics begin.
“When it comes to the Olympics all bets are off,” she says. “You never know who will steal the spotlight – whether it’s a rookie sensation, a seasoned veteran or a complete unknown. We have a lot of up-and-coming athletes: Domen Prevc (SLV) has made many headlines in ski jumping while Henrik Kristoffersen (NOR) and Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) have become very young, but dominant forces in Alpine. Meanwhile, Chloe Kim (USA) is already a major name in the snowboard world.” Then fifteen-year-old Chloe already showed that she will be a force to be reckoned with in the future when she took gold in the Ladies’ Slopestyle at the Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer 2016.
The stage already appears to be set. Now the hope is that PyeongChang 2018 entertains existing supporters while, in the best tradition of the Olympics, engaging a whole new generation.
“The Olympic Winter Games are our chance to bring skiing and snowboarding to a global audience and get people excited about our sports,” Wiedeke says. “We are lucky that we have very loyal fans, but the boost from the Games in terms of interest is immeasurable.”