News

Extreme sports given a run at Youth Olympics

17 December 2013

IOC/ YOG: Maybe it’s about flexibility. Maybe it’s about youth. Whatever the logic, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has added more wheels to the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) program.

New IOC President Thomas Bach used his first special brainstorming session with the IOC Executive Board to develop a list of sports to be showcased at the second summer YOG in China next August.

Roller Sports, Skateboarding and Sport Climbing all gained “demonstration status” alongside the martial arts sport Wushu which had already been announced.

The sports will not be ‘contested’ in the traditional sense, but Nanjing represents a shot to boost their profiles in the youth and Chinese markets.

In a sense, it is a test. If they are well received any one of them could evolve into an Olympic sport at a future Games.

“Olympic status would mean a great deal to Australian Sport Climbers,” Rob LeBreton, Sports Climbing Australia President said.

“The prestige that goes with competing in an Olympic Games, along with the chance to be part of the biggest sporting event on the planet would spur our climbers onto new heights - literally!”

Sport Climbing, Roller Sports and Wushu all vied for inclusion at the Tokyo 2020 summer Games but were knocked out of the selection race before voting even reached the IOC’s final meeting in Buenos Aires (Wrestling eventually triumphed over “finalists” Squash and Softball/Baseball).

“Sport Climbing by its very nature appeals to young people,” LeBreton said.

“The Youth Olympics is an obvious great starting point for Sport Climbing's association with the Olympic movement.”

Incidentally, Sport Climbing involves three disciplines aligned with the Olympic motto: a Speed race to the top (faster); Lead climbing where the highest climber wins (higher); and Boulder climbing where climbers tackle a series of boulder problems- short, tricky climbs (stronger).

LeBreton noted that climbing is the only basic movement pattern that is not currently represented at the Olympics. It is also booming in Australia.

“Thanks to our abundance of amazing rock formations, Australia had a long and colourful history of outdoor rock climbing… Since then climbing gyms have opened all around the country and our competition climbers have worked their way up the world rankings,” LeBreton said.

But globally, just how popular are these “extreme” sports in the YOG demographic? In youth speak, the topic “Skateboarding” attracts 15,777,653 ‘likes’ on Facebook - considerably more than the topic “Wrestling” with 2,221,042 ‘likes’, or even the topic “Track and Field” with 4,490,256 ‘likes’.

You will also see Facebook groups such as “Icelandic Skaters!!!”, “SkateboardingPeru.Com” and “Philippine Skateboarding” in a nod to a sport like Skateboarding’s global attraction.

Both Skateboarding and Sport Climbing were listed as part of the megatrend “from extreme to mainstream” documented in the Australian Sports Commission’s 2013 report: The future of Australian Sport.

“These adventure sports have high participation rates and attract large audiences. They are especially popular with younger generations,” the report said.

“The question for Australia is whether it can move quickly to establish a competitive lead in adventure sports which may find their way into the Olympics in the future?”

Australia has done this successfully in the past with women’s Snowboard Halfpipe, Aerial Skiing and BMX Cycling.

“Sport Climbing has experienced massive expansion first in Europe, then North America and now in Asia. We expect, and we are planning for, Australia to be the next place where climbing really takes off,” Le Breton said.

“The Sport Climbing community here is motivated and passionate about our sport and we are determined to develop it to the highest level.”

Meanwhile, there are 990 skate parks in Australia- growing at a rate of two new parks per week since 2005.

Nanjing 2014 is also a particularly good opportunity for the Federation Internationale de Roller Sports (FIRS) which will host the first unified Roller Games in history in 2017 for all disciplines of Roller Sports.

Wushu is a huge sport in Asia, but the Australian Sports Commission has recognised Kung Fu Wushu Australia (KWA) as the peak organisation governing the interests of Kung Fu/Wu Shu in Australia.

Bach and the IOC have handed these sports a lifeline and planted it in the heart of the Youth Olympic Games. Whichever pulse beats the strongest may have a shot at Olympic status if they impress the next generation of Olympians at the Nanjing YOG.

The 2014 YOG will run from August 16-28 in Nanjing, China. Susie O’Neill is the Australian Team Chef de Mission and 2010 YOG Champion Jessica Fox is the Australian Team’s Young Ambassador.

Taya Conomos
olympics.com.au