The Winter Olympics Are Coming: What To Expect In Pyeongchang

The official gold medal of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 2018.

Due to the curious way in which the Olympic calendar works, and the fact that the world doesn’t too often send the Games to the southern hemisphere (save for last year, I know), the next set of global competitive sports is only four months away — barely a year and a half since we left Rio! We should enjoy it, because the Tokyo 2020 games won’t be for another two and a half years after that. Provided, of course, that the world is still interested and able to come together for sports.

So it’s eyes on Pyeongchang, South Korea come February, where winter sport athletes and enthusiasts will join together for what will surely be another exercise in impressive individual achievements, lively patriotism, melodramatic personal tales, and bizarre, open-to-interpretation ceremonies.

Due to an increasing lack of interest in hosting these days, with major cities around the world withdrawing from the bidding pool, the Olympics are about to be held in a region of the world that, let’s say, has some geopolitical tension right now. (So much for sports being a distraction!) Here are the intriguing storylines to follow when the the Winter Olympiad descends on South Korea. 

New Sports

Well, not exactly new sports — just new arrangements, which really is the way the Olympics should go in order to gain more viewers. For instance, there will be four new competitions highlighted by mixed curling. Instead of two teams each composed of four players of the same sex, mixed curling pairs one man and one woman on each side. This is great in that it inches us closer to not having any divisions in curling based on gender; I have yet to be convinced men are so much superior to women in curling that they can’t compete against each other. Let’s get everyone together and play ball! Well — rock. 

There is also a snowboarding big air event, which should be both exhilarating and nerve-wracking to watch. Mass speed skating, which is exactly what it sounds like, will be mainly just nerve-wracking. Lastly, there will be a new alpine skiing event called nation team, which is an attempt to turn an individual sport into a group one. 

Still not inducted this year are such winter activities as ice climbing, snowball fighting, or the modern biathlon: drinking mulled cider and playing board games.

Hockey

The NHL will not allow its players to compete in the Olympics, and hockey is one of the biggest draws, especially when Canada and the USA meet. Because of a dispute over money, and the potential of players getting injured (which would affect playoff potential, ratings, and thus money), Commissioner Gary Bettman will not grant a break to players to compete for their countries in the Olympics. This will no doubt be a controversial move, as the NHL has previously endorsed the event for five consecutive Games.

While it doesn’t seem likely, it’s worth wondering if any players will defect, like Alex Ovechkin said he would. (But then said he wouldn’t.) It’s certainly not analogous to what’s going on in football, but activism amongst professional athletes seems to be on the rise, and representing your country over representing a rich owner might be a move worth reflecting upon.

There will be no shortage of players, excitement, or familial rivalries, but the lack of big names may have an impact on ratings, which is of course what most of this is about.

Then again, the American victory that would become known as the Miracle on Ice happened because of amateurs.

Viewership

One could assume that a decreased interest in hosting the Olympics would reflect an apathy in viewership as well. However, the Summer Olympics haven’t exactly lost their global lustre. Rio surprised NBC, which owns the rights to the Games, when it averaged some 27 million viewers, placing the 2016 Olympics second in ratings ever just behind the 2012 games in London. The next three mostwatched games are also all summer events as well.

Due to the fact that fewer countries and athletes participate in the Winter Games, what with it not being winter in most places, interest and viewership is naturally lower relative to the summer games. NBC averaged around 21 million viewers for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, down from Vancouver in 2010, but up from Torino in 2006. Time zones play a factor in who watches, as do compelling stories and athletes. One reason that viewership may be in decline, though, is the bigger picture: hockey might certainly affect ratings, but so too might events occuring outside the arena.

Geopolitics

I’m fairly certain that most of us don’t know what’s a joke and what’s real anymore when it comes to international politics; I’m not going to name names, but there has definitely been an escalation in rhetoric and tension when it comes to one particular world superpower and some countries in and around the Korean peninsula. And that means there could very well be a newfound controversy popping up that we didn’t even know to expect. Maybe athletes will kneel or raise a fist during the anthem. Maybe some will use the platform to express their opinions. Or maybe everyone, from all walks of life, will unite for the common good in celebration of that which makes us human, crossing political, social, and geographic barriers for a brief and welcome moment of happiness. One that reminds everyone that greatness and camaraderie do still exist across the globe.

Or maybe there will be a Twitter Feud. Time will tell!