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INTERVIEW-Olympics-New events a hit, last male bastion to fall-Bach

Source: Reuters - Thu, 13 Feb 2014 16:11 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Karolos Grohmann

SOCHI, Russia, Feb 13 (Reuters) - The last bastion of male-only competition at the Winter Games will fall in the coming years if the International Olympic Committee's president, Thomas Bach, gets his way.

Speaking to Reuters on Thursday, Bach said he would like to see a women's event in Nordic combined after women ski jumpers took to the Olympic hill for the first time in Sochi.

Nordic combined, comprising cross-country skiing and ski jumping, is the last male-only competition at the Winter Olympics. Judging by the instant popularity of women's ski jumping and 11 other new disciplines in Sochi, a women's version would be equally successful, Bach said.

The IOC has also introduced events for slopestyle skiers and snowboarders that have grabbed the imagination of the public with exhilarating runs and gravity-defying tricks.

"We have 12 new disciplines here and to find even more spectacular ones (for the 2022 Games) - I do not know," said Bach, who was elected to the post in September 2013. "If anybody has a great idea, it is welcome.

"For a winter programme in 2022 it may be more about consolidation in one or the other way, and it may also be that we try, and this I would appreciate very much because I advocate it very much, to add one or other mixed event."

South Korea's Pyeongchang will host the 2018 Winter Games while the hosts for 2022 will be decided next year.

"Think about Nordic combined for women. We have ski jumping for women, cross country for women, so why should we not have Nordic combined because we see that they are a great success and this is a very good way to promote women's sport."

The German lawyer launched a wide-reaching review of the Games almost immediately after taking over, and some IOC members described the speed with which he wants to push through changes as "breakneck".

RIGHT MOMENTUM

Bach, however, believes it is early on in his presidency when such changes to refresh the Games and win over new fans and sponsors can be ushered in, using the momentum that followed his election five months ago.

"We have to adapt to modern times. We did so in the Winter Games in the past with snowboard and moguls and we have to keep going in this direction, and I hope that in the Summer Games we can have progress and have the one or the other new sport in."

Golf and rugby have already been added to the programme for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Bach was equally confident that the Sochi Games would be deemed a success with the athletes enjoying state-of-the-art venues and infrastructure built from scratch at a total cost of about $50 billion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, criticised in the runup over his country's human rights record, has staked his personal, and the nation's, reputation on a successful Olympics.

"It's a great Games for the athletes," said Bach, a 1976 fencing gold medalist. "I've been speaking here with many, many athletes and I have not heard a single complaint."

Fears that warm weather could affect the competition have not materialised so far. Athletes have enjoyed glorious sunny weather and said they were enjoying the Games.

"They are all happy with the facilities, the village, and they are extremely happy with the proximity of the village and the venues. They know that for them, the best stage has been prepared for the best athletes of the world so I am really happy."

He did, however, acknowledge that he found it hard to stay neutral as Germany climbed to the top of the medals' table.

"(As President) I have to maintain neutrality although I have to admit that my hands get twitchy when I am at the competitions and see the performances of the German athletes," said Bach, the former head of his country's Olympic Committee.

"They are very good performances. But these performances also by the other athletes show that the conditions here are excellent and allow athletes to do the best performances and set personal bests." (Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Robert Woodward)

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