8 Winter Olympics Demo Sports

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This year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia have added 12 new sports to the global competition, making the 22nd Winter Olympics the largest version of the event yet. But this isn't the first time the Olympics have attempted to introduce new competitions to the world. The event has long made both room and time to include “demonstration sports” during their run. These sports are played for promotional purposes and some eventually become official Olympic events. Most don't—but there are certainly some interesting entries here (including two that involve dogs).

1. Skijoring

Sure, there are plenty of Olympic-level sports that the layman should not try at home, but few seem as primed for disaster as skijoring, a game that centers on being pulled by animals while on skis. Picture your goofy neighbor who likes to go skateboarding with his or her pup pulling them along. Then imagine that all happening on snow and ice.

Skijoring involves one cross-country skier either being pulled by dogs (often from such go-get-'em breeds as Huskies, Malamutes, Samoyeds, and Inuit dogs) or one trick skier going over jumps and obstacles while being pulled by a single horse. Equestrian skijoring also includes cross-country style races, but most competitions involve the acrobatic elements. You can also skijor behind a snowmobile, but it's far less cute.

Skijoring was only demonstrated at one Olympics—1928 in St. Moritz—but the sport is still in competition across the world. Whitefish, Montana is home to the annual World Skijoring Championships.

2. Ice stock sport

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Though curling is now curiously en vogue when it comes to nifty Olympic sports, it’s not the only “sliding things across ice” competition to take the Games by storm. Ice stock sport (also known as “Bavarian curling”) has demonstrated at two different Winter Olympics—in 1936 in Bavaria, Germany (of course!) and in 1964 in Innsbruck, Austria.

Like curling, ice stock sport centers on sliding an object (in this case, the eponymous “ice stock,” which looks like a big, flat circle with a stick on top) across ice. Winning at ice stock sport hinges on hitting a target or covering the longest distance. There are many version of ice stock, but “target shooting” and “distance shooting” are the most popular. Despite being a winter sport, athletes will also play the game during the summer, using tarmacs to slide their ice stocks along.

3. Military patrol

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Nothing says “fun Olympic sport” quite like the name “military patrol,” but this demonstration event actually has some niftiness to it—like its team element and strict backpack weight requirements (OK, maybe the latter isn’t as fun). Military patrol has so far demonstrated at three different Winter Games, making it the most popular demo event. It's a combination of cross-country skiing, ski mountaineering, and rifle shooting.

If that sounds familiar, it's because the sport inspired the biathlon, which is still an Olympic sport today.

4. Ski ballet

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Though ski ballet (also known as “acroski”) is no longer a part of freestyle skiing, it’s hard to deny the allure of a sport so rigorously dedicated to embodying its name. Ski ballet is a choreographed event performed on a smooth slope. While the sport tried to adapt to changing times–in the '70s, routines came with music, and in the '80s pair ballet competitions emerged—the International Ski Federation ceased all formal competition of the sport in 2000.

Ski ballet demonstrated at two different Olympics during its heyday—in 1988 in Calgary and then again in 1992 in Albertville, France.

5. Bandy

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A precursor to hockey, bandy is another on-ice game that involves skating, sticks, and goals. Its rules are similar to soccer and bandy teams put at least eight players on the ice at any given time. The ice area is much bigger than in hockey, and is best compared to a football field. Another big difference between bandy and hockey is that bandy is played with a small round ball, not a small flat puck. Bandy only demonstrated at the Olympics once, back in 1952 in Oslo, Norway. 

6. Sled-dog racing

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Perhaps the most well-known sport of all the demonstration events, sled-dog racing showed at the 1932 Games in Lake Placid and then again in 1952 in Oslo, but it never made it to official status.

Still, sled-dog racing is incredibly popular and has plenty of its own competitions (like the world-famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race) to keep it going.

7. Speed skiing

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You’ve got to hand it to speed skiing—they’ve certainly got some simplicity going on here. As the name lets on, speed skiing is all about velocity, and the aim of the sport is to ski downhill in one line as quickly as possible. It's both totally exhilarating and horrifically terrifying. While the Olympics still play host to plenty of other fast skiing events, the speeds that speed skiers hit (around 125 MPH) are much faster than the numbers put up by slalom racers and the like. The current record holder, Italy’s Simone Origone, was clocked at 156.2 MPH back in April of 2006.

Speed skiing was shown at the Olympics just once, back in 1992 at the Albertville Games, home to the famous Les Arcs course, a 2 kilometer trail that has seen three of the four world speed skiing records.

8. Winter pentathlon

If you think the biathlon features a weird pairing of events, it’s time for you to get hip to the winter pentathlon.

Like the biathlon, the pentathlon involves both cross-country skiing and shooting, but also adds downhill skiing, fencing, and horseback riding. It was demonstrated only once, at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Fourteen athletes competed in the complicated sport, and while it sounds like the sort of sport that needs a bevy of different arenas, they simplified things—every event was held outdoors, including the fencing.

While not an official Olympic event, the winter pentathlon is held every year at the Military World Games.

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February 13, 2014 - 7:00pm
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