Snowboarding, half pipe, short track, ski cross - the influx of new events over the past two decades makes it pretty clear this ain't your parents' Olympic Games anymore.
The modern Olympics, dating back to 1896, have gradually evolved with the times and that appears to have contributed to their popularity, including the 21st Winter Games just concluded in Vancouver.
Adding elements from extreme sports and other competitions to the traditional skiing, skating and sliding events has reinvigorated the Winter Olympics and, in particular, enhanced their appeal to a younger, broader audience.
With that in mind, I have to admit that I now view, in a different light, the announcement made late last year that mixed doubles was being added to the Summer Olympic tennis competition starting in 2012 in London.
There are a number of tennis fans who enjoy watching mixed doubles, and that is never more obvious that at the season-opening Hopman Cup in Perth, Australia. Eight teams, composed of a man and a woman, play two singles and then a mixed doubles to decide every match-up. There is an undeniable attraction to seeing the men and women playing together for their country. Being the first event of the year, and with no ranking points on the line, there is not as much at stake - except for two diamond-encrusted tennis balls for the overall winners - and the simple fun aspect of the game is much more in evidence than at regular tournaments. At this year's Hopman Cup in January, Andy Murray teamed with then 15-year-old fellow-Briton Laura Robson and they were highly amusing to watch. Robson has quick wit and was frequently able to crack up the usually phlegmatic Murray during their conversations between points.
At the London Olympics, it is likely a lot of people outside the hardcore of tennis fans will be attracted by having the men and women competing on the same field of play, and by being able to observe the dynamics and emotions of an event where the men almost inevitably will be the clearly superior players on the court. From the human interest point of view, it should be good for television ratings, with everything heightened by the prospect of a gold medal.
In principle, I remain strongly against introducing mixed doubles for several reasons including that, in the middle of the busy summer schedule, having many top stars play singles, doubles and mixed doubles during the restricted number of days (eight in Beijing in 2008) allotted to tennis during the Games is simply asking too much of players already prone to physical breakdowns. As well, it seems probable that some players, particularly those who have a strong opposite-sex partner from their own country, might decide to skip the regular doubles events, which would diminish those more legitimate competitions.
That would be unfortunate because doubles is generally the real deal compared to the largely just-for-kicks (and a little extra prize money) mixed events at the four Grand Slam tournaments.
But if mixed doubles, as with other new sports and events that have been added, is going to create a better entertainment package at the Games, then let it be - "ladies, gentlemen, ready... play."
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