The case for snowless winter games

Why are Olympic winter games still supposed to be held in Arctic-like conditions? Is there a compelling reason why the world’s sporting youth should suffer from slush, frostbites and blizzards every four years? Apparently there is, at least according to the critics of this month’s subtropical games. Sochi is famously blessed with sun and sand instead of snow and ice, but this rather appealing fact is ridiculed and even abhorred by the self-nominated purists who would prefer to dispatch the whole Olympic circus beyond the Arctic Circle.

Yet the Black Sea region was closely connected to the Greek civilization that bequeathed the august games to us, and so far as history books can be trusted, the ancient champions never had to cope with unexpected snowfall. Indeed, if the Hellenes ever tried their hand at pastimes reminiscent of our winter sports, the contests must have been carried out in an environment identical to Sochi.

It follows that the Russian beach resort is not only geographically but also conceptually the most appropriate host city in the history of the winter games. Besides, in view of the specter of global warming, the persistent coupling of the five-ring extravaganza with snow will soon turn out to be counter-productive. Chances are that we will be reduced to bids from Antarctica and the Himalayas by the end of the century. ‘Try out our Super-G course down K2!’ ‘Enjoy distance skiing in the traces of Amundsen and Scott!’

What needs to be done, then, is to embrace Sochi in its splendor and demolish the prevailing notion that associates Olympic winter games with snow-covered landscapes. By all means, let the games go on; just get rid of below-zero temperatures and wasteful indoor facilities.

Luckily, the wheel was invented a long while ago, in fact well before the Greeks launched their merry games full of sunshine. Regarding today’s speed skaters, figure skaters and ice hockey players, they just have to adopt roller skates to save their sports for the era of post-ice games. Biathletes and cross-country skiers, for their part, have been practicing on wheels for decades, no need to look for a sustainable solution further than that.

While curling can be played on any slippery surface, Alpine skiing and the sledding sports could perhaps be celebrated on sand dunes. Some of the tallest ones are located in the Namib Desert and they are of truly Olympic proportions. Alternatively, visionary lords of the rings might deem it wise to turn some of those high-risk sports along with ski jumping into user-friendly and perfectly safe computer games.

Did I forget something? Snowboarding and free-style skiing, of course, but there’s simply no way Plato could have found any virtue in easy-going teenage athletes in baggy trousers. It is a scenario as implausible as Pindar waxing elegiac about a trick called Penguin Walk. (‘To “walk” while strapped into a snowboard by alternatively springing from nose to tail, propelling the snowboarder forward in a walking fashion. Also known as a “Crab” or “Duck” walk.’)

Come to think of it, the Russian hosts should have taken still another step towards the ideal of snowless games by declaring Sochi a snowboarding-free zone. As it is, we have to settle for ice hockey arenas surrounded by palm trees and speed skaters nestling with sunbathers, which is of course much more than any previous host has been able to offer. Over to you, Pyeonchang 2018!

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