The breakneck ski-slope antics of 14-year-old Kelly Sildaru have become a symbol of the youth revolution being forced on the Olympics as it battles for relevance.
Change is in the air when the young Estonian launches into a slopestyle run, skiing down metal railings, going backwards down an icy slope to confront more obstacles, a 10m leap before a final descent facing the wrong way.
The scarily spectacular slopestyle is now an Olympic favourite and Sildaru will be a babyface to watch at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018. The Estonian, who was five years old when she did her first ski jumps, already became the youngest X Games gold medal winner at Aspen, Colorado in January.
When International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach met the first slopestyle medal winners at the Sochi Winter Games in 2014 he said they were “cool guys”.
And Bach, winner of a gold medal in the more staid discipline of fencing, knows that the Olympics needs “cool”.
The Ancient Olympics did not have to worry about sponsors, television ratings and Twitter. Bach does.
That is why slopestyle and snowboard parallel slalom – where 15-year-old American Chloe Kim (see top image) is the new star – joined the Winter Games in 2014 and beach volleyball and other new sports have become growing stars of the Summer Games.
And that is why the non-teenager Lords of the Rings who run the Olympics now have to keep a close eye on the fast changing world of the X Games and other new youth sports knocking on the door of the Olympics.
Skateboarding on a main street in many US and European towns can still bring a fine. But skateboarding, along with surfing and sport climbing, are among sports that could get into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“The management of the Olympics understand what skateboarding can bring. The IOC knows what snowboarding has done for the Winter Games,” said International Skateboarding Federation president Gary Ream, who is no longer a teenager.
“Both sports are somewhat outlaws because kids discovered a passion. It’s deep. It’s more real, from the heart. It’s the spirit of youth.”
International Surfing Association president Fernando Aguerre countered: “Surfing embodies a cool, playful lifestyle that would add a completely new element to the programme.”
The IOC must make a decision on the new Tokyo events – with sport climbing, karate and baseball/softball also in contention – at this year’s Rio Olympics.
The X Games, launched in 1995, now has major sponsors. The IOC reacted by starting a Youth Olympics. The latest winter edition was held in Lillehammer, Norway this month.
The summer youth games have featured sports such as three-a-side basketball while monobob, a one-person bobsleigh, was one of seven new events in Lillehammer.
Unlike two- and four-person bobsled teams at the senior Olympics, only one person pushes, drives and brakes the 165kg sled down the track, reaching speeds of more than 128kmph.
Sport is changing at a dizzying pace compared to the Olympics of 20 years ago.
Edgar Grospiron, who won the first-ever moguls freestyle skiing gold at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France – that was also a revolution – told of what it is like to be cast as a veteran.
“I was skiing at Alpe d’Huez recently when two kids came up to me and one said: ‘You are Edgar Grospiron.’”
Grospiron acknowledged his identity and the boy turned to his friend and said: “Wow that’s the guy who taught Candide Thovex how to ski!”
Thovex was the hero of freestyle and moguls skiing of the early 2000s who took over Grospiron’s mantle, before he was also ousted in the popularity ratings.
Grospiron says today’s young skiers are always looking for new variations as the new sports of 10 years ago are considered too rigid. Speedriding, for example, where a skier lands on snow on a paraglider is growing in popularity at mountain resorts.
Some consider skateboarding out of date. Parkour and freerunning have become cutting edge urban sports. Adepts have to get between two points, running or walking, taking in walls, vaults between obstacles and flips over steps.
“What is important for sport is to be pertinent to young generations so there are new athletes coming in at the bottom of the pyramid,” said the IOC executive director Christophe Dubi.
“That goes for the rules and format of the game too. The presentation, the music and lighting are all important,” said Dubi.
Of the new Olympic candidates Dubi said that surfing, sport climbing and skateboarding are all “as much a lifestyle as they are a traditional sport”. – AFP