Snowboard slopestyle and ski halfpipe will make their Olympic-level debut at the winter premier of the Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, next January. Snowboard halfpipe and ski cross are also on the program.
Over 1,000 athletes aged 15 to 18 from about 70 countries will compete in 63 events across seven sports. The sports mirror the program for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, but YOG works with international federations to incorporate disciplines that do not appear in the Olympics.
"Those Youth Olympic Games can also be a lab," said Essar Gabriel, the IOC head of YOG. "We're encouraging innovation on YOG. The fact that it feeds into the total process that goes on for the Olympic Games, for sure there are parallels there." However, Gabriel said Innsbruck should not be considered a crystal ball for Sochi. "The parameters are not the same, and also the time of the decision is not the same," he said. The program was set before Innsbruck signed the host city contract in January 2009.
"We are very happy and very lucky to have these great sports," Innsbruck 2012 CEO Peter Bayer said about slopestyle and halfpipe. "We believe they will help the youth and really raise the interest of the youth in these events."
The first edition of YOG was held in Singapore last year for summer sports. The winter YOG will mark a historical "second first" for the Olympic movement, according to Gabriel. "When the President [of IOC Jacques Rogge] came up with this idea, it was embraced by all the members unanimously," Gabriel said. "It was the first time since 1924 and the creation of the Winter Olympic Games that the IOC created a new sporting event."
Singapore featured non-Olympic disciplines, including three-on-three basketball, an idea put forward by FIBA. A number of new events will appear in Innsbruck, including the Alpine skiing team parallel event. Along with ski and snowboard slopestyle, this is still awaiting Olympic status from the IOC.
Bayer was animated about the new disciplines. "I'm very happy that we have snowboard slopestyle. It's a pity that we don't have ski slopestyle, because that would complete the picture," he said. "Ski halfpipe and the whole slopestyle movement I think is really important because it's not only a sport, it's almost a lifestyle that these kids celebrate by doing the sports."
Innsbruck will also feature a cultural and educational program for athletes, the second pillar of YOG. Events in Singapore included "Chat with Champions" and working with WADA to educate athletes about the dangers of doping.
Over 247 million people worldwide tuned into the Singapore Games, and Gabriel reported more than 10 million video downloads on YouTube.
"Singapore has been a fantastic partner," Gabriel said. "[It] allowed even more for these Youth Olympic Games to have a fantastic birth."
Bayer believes Innsbruck will do the same for the winter event. "Innsbruck is almost the capital for all these new sports in Europe," he said.