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The Winter Olympics: a forgotten second child?

ByRuaidhri Power

Feb 13, 2018

The Olympics are a celebration of culture, pride and sporting prowess. The same is true whether on the athletics track or ski slope. Yet the Summer Olympics have always received a far more favourable reception and coverage in the modern world.

One of the reasons for this is the history of the two events. The Summer Olympics traces its origins back to eighth century BC Olympia in Greece, and the first modern Olympic Games was held in 1896 in Athens. Since then, the Games have grown immensely in popularity and inclusiveness, with the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games allowing 205 nations and sporting bodies to compete.

The Winter Olympics cannot claim such an illustrious history. Whilst they are Olympic Games, and therefore have an indisputable link to the games of Ancient Greece, they truly spawned from the success of the Summer Olympics, with the inaugural games being held by Chamonix, France in 1924. Unlike the Summer Olympics of 2016 with over 200 competing sporting bodies, the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics will only have 92 competing sporting bodies.

Clearly the winter branch of the Olympics cannot boast a history and tradition that can compete with its summer sibling, and the same can be said for diversity.

The Summer Olympics attract competitors from all over the world who compete in a vast variety of events. From Britain to Australia, USA to China, Brazil to Kenya, the inclusivity of the Summer Olympics is immense.

In terms of events, the Rio 2016 Games included new events such as golf and rugby, as well as the traditional track and field events. There were officially 28 different Olympic sports played, with a vast majority of those sports themselves being split into different categories.

In contrast, the Winter Olympics seem to have a much more limited range. There is geographical restriction, as the winter games in essence are suited to nations who experience snow and ice. Whilst Africa, South America and Asia are not excluded from fielding athletes, it is very difficult for some nations in these continents to field competitive athletes, as they simply do not have the exposure to ‘wintery’ conditions that nations such as Canada and Russia do. This is represented by the fact that the number of sporting bodies fielding athletes in the 2018 Winter Olympics is less than half of the number that fielded athletes in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

There is also a link between geography and the limited number of events on offer in the Winter Olympics. The 2018 games feature 15 sports, just over half of the number that were featured in summer 2016. Natural restrictions therefore prevent the winter Games from offering as broad an array of sports as the summer Games do.

It is obvious that the Winter Olympics are far more restricted in history and diversity than the Summer Olympics are. It is therefore only natural that they should not receive the same interest. After all, they are different events. The overall importance and impressiveness of the Winter Olympics, however, should not be underplayed.

The Winter Games showcase some of the most talented sportspeople that the world has to offer. The excitement of the skill showcased on snow and ice is unrivalled.

Important historic sporting moments have emerged from these games – from Jamaicans in a bobsleigh, to Eddie the Eagle soaring over the ski jump, to Russians creating history in the ice-rink.

The Winter Olympics are unique. Whilst they aren’t as famous or popular as their older summer sibling, they retain an incredibly important place in the history of sport and are eagerly anticipated every four years.


Image courtesy of Kevin Dooley

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