Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

How to sex up the Games

My surefire formula to attract new fans to the Olympics

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Like a middle-aged, overweight columnist, the Olympics are doing everything they can to become hipper, sexier and more appealing to young people.

In my case, I accomplish this by wearing tight-fitting clothing and making constant but meaningless references to pop culture figures such as Lady Gaga and hunky young actor Robert Pattinson.

In the case of the Olympics, they're trying to lure hipsters away from their iPhones via the technique of taking already-potentially-lethal winter activities and making a few tweaks in the hope that a competitor will lose several medically important organs in front of a live audience.

This seems to be the only reasonable explanation for the "totally stoked" sport of ski cross, which made its "smashing" Olympic debut on Sunday at the Vancouver Games.

It's NASCAR meets roller derby on snow, featuring four skiers hammering downhill AT THE SAME TIME on a course packed with jumps, moguls, tight corridors and banked curves. Sometimes -- and this is the best part -- one of the skiers will make it to the finish line with all his limbs intact.

In the spirit of promoting international sport and goodwill, they also make one of the competitors wear a helmet-cam so we, the TV viewers, can be right there in case someone crashes, which they do with more frequency than ice dancers, if you can imagine that.

It's like the snowboard cross, which was introduced at the Turin Olympics, but it's more exciting because the skiers are armed with poles in case they want to poke a rival's eye out.

If, in an effort to be "with it" like my dogs and I, you watched the inaugural ski-cross event Sunday, you know what I mean. It was bizarre. It was confusing. It was chaotic. It was terrifying.

So, all in all, it was great TV, which was confirmed when the commentators analysing a race in which a Canadian slammed into the snow like an off-course North Korean missile had a conversation that went like this:

First TV analyst: "You know, they really should have ambulances parked at the finish line. Ha ha ha."

Second TV analyst: "You betcha! Ha ha ha!"

So, being the kind of columnist who strives to stay in touch with what young people are thinking unless it means missing an afternoon nap, I was enthralled. I'm just not sure how they came up with the concept. Did they decide regular Alpine skiing just isn't dangerous enough for your modern, youthful, Twittering TV viewer?

In traditional alpine skiing, the basic idea is competitors jump off a mountain with skis strapped to their feet and continue plummeting until they smash through the roof of a ski lodge at the bottom of the course and land face-first in the salad bar.

So the mass start in ski cross is a big improvement, but, if they really want to attract a wider audience, why stop there? Why not tweak a few other stodgy "sports" to increase their potential for massive blood loss? Here are some they might want to consider:

1) Why are biathletes the only ones who get to carry guns? That's just plain unfair. Pretty much any Olympic sport you can name would benefit hugely from allowing the competitors to carry sidearms. Imagine how much more exciting figure skating would be if, after a triple lutz or a double salchow-toe loop combination, the skaters fired a few rounds in the general direction of the judging panel.

2) Three words: Bobsled ski jump. Tell me you wouldn't skip American Idol to watch this. We could even sell advertising space on their parachutes.

3) What if we combined ice dancing and luge or skeleton? I'll bet their eyeliner and flimsy, sequined outfits would burn up pretty quickly as they rocketed down an ice-covered track. If you watch Dancing with the Stars in hopes of seeing a contestant rumba her way out of a slinky dress, you know this would send ratings through the roof. I'd like to see them try a "twizzle" at 150 km/h.

4) Extreme curling! Maybe it's time we modified the roaring game to include something more strenuous for the curlers than ordering new brooms online. It would be nice to see them breathing "HARD, HARDER" for once. Maybe downhill curling? Cross-country curling? Or just give them helmets and let them bang bodies the way they do in short-track speed skating.

5) Hockey? Just kidding! You don't mess with a classic. On the other hand, I'll bet that American goalie would have been pretty jittery the other night if Sidney Crosby was packing a rifle. Just a thought.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2010 A2

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