Here's What the Winter Olympics Have Been Missing All This Time

February 23, 1992|By MYRON BECKENSTEIN | MYRON BECKENSTEIN,Myron Beckenstein is assistant foreign editor of The Baltimore Sun.

And now after 15 days, it is time for the final word on the 1992 Winter Olympics: Lillehammer.

Lillehammer, Norway, is the site for the 1994 games and it is never to early to begin thinking of them, especially since there is only a two-year gap between the events as the winter games move to a different cycle from the summer version. In fact, it may already be too late: those Olympic racers move swiftly, but the Olympic bureaucracy has other values.

According to somebody on television -- and therefore to be treated as fact -- 1994 will be the last year for demonstration sports in the Winter Olympics. If new sports are to stand a chance of breaking into the lineup we are running out of time to nominate them.

So here are a few ideas for new events to make things more interesting:

* Mixed Skiing Relay. The best of both alpine worlds. First a cross-country skier works his way up the nonslippery side of a hill. At the top he passes a baton to a downhill skier, who races down the slippery side, passes the baton to another cross-country skier who climbs back up and gives it to another downhiller, who zooms down and crosses the finish line in the traditional blaze of glory or disappointment. Maybe one pair could be male, the other female.

A cloth with manufacturers' insignia would be an appropriate baton because everything in the Olympics is loaded with manufacturers' insignia, and auctioning off spots on the cloth would be a good way to raise money for the team.

* Modern Biathlon. The current biathlon mixes cross-country skiing and shooting. Cross-country may be fun to do, but not to watch, unless you focus on the scenery, which is not quite what they want you to do. Also, shooting is now fairly outmoded, except as an inner-city sport.

The idea is to take ski jumping, the other Nordic event, and build on it. Ski jumping is inherently more exciting to watch. For one thing, there is a much greater possibility of something spectacular happening, unless you consider seeing exhausted skiers collapse spectacular.

In the Modern Biathlon, ski jumpers would do exactly what they usually do, except that while sailing through the air they would glide over a target and drop a bomb-like device on it. The device wouldn't explode, of course -- that is why it is only bomb-like. Scoring would be on skiing style, distance of jump and closeness of the bomb to the target, which would be, appropriately, the five-ring Olympic symbol.

* Skating events. The regular figure/dancing events have to be graded on elements other than higher, faster, farther. But the scoring has become far too subjective. The judges clearly are grading the performers on something other than the performance du jour.

The solution is for all skaters to wear bags over their heads so the judges can't see who is on the ice and then vote with their prejudices. Maybe masks would do, as long as they did not identify the skater and complemented the spirit of the costume.

* Mixed Skating. Two skaters from each country would, in order, race 500 meters, do a compulsory dance, race 1,000 meters, do a short program (including a triple axel or two and a half salchow), skate another 500 meters, then, perhaps finally, shoot at stationary targets. For each target they miss, they would be required to skate a different compulsory dance. Scoring would be for total elapsed time.

* Freestyle Luge. The differences between luge contestants is so infinitesimal now that the average viewer now just sees an endless repetition of the same shots, only with the uniform color changing. Not only are all the runs alike, so are the running times. This year the best American singles racer finished a dismal 10th. After four breakneck runs, he was a whole 1.489 seconds behind the gold medal winner.

In freestyle luging, the sled would forsake the usual track and go down a mogul course -- the kind skiers go over that looks like an upside-down egg carton. The wider track would also allow several lugers to race head to head for still more excitement. The winner would be the luger with the fastest time, or whoever survives.

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