Five-ring Circus

Get to Know a New Olympic Event: Mixed Team Alpine Skiing

US Mikaela Shiffrin (L) competes with France's Nastasia Noens during the nation team event at the Alpine Skiing World Cup finals on March 14, 2014 in Lenzerheide. Switzerland beat the United States to win the mixed team event at the World Cup finals on home snow at Lenzerheide.   AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI        (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Mikaela Shiffrin (L) competes with France’s Nastasia Noens during the nation team event at the Alpine Skiing World Cup finals on March 14, 2014 in Lenzerheide.
FABRICE COFFRINI/Getty Images

Event: Mixed team Alpine skiing.

What it is: In mixed team Alpine skiing, four skiers from a given country—two women and two men—compete against other national teams in a series of head-to-head slalom races. There are four heats in a match, and in each of those heats the skiers face off directly on parallel slalom courses. The team that wins the most heats proceeds to the next round. In case of a tie, the times of the fastest man and woman on each team get tallied, with the victory going to the team with the quickest combined time. Who doesn’t enjoy a good tally every now and then?

What to watch for: The heats are seeded according to a team’s combined World Cup rankings. Seeded events are always exciting, as fans of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament already know. Is there any greater sporting pleasures each year than rooting for whichever mid-major team has the opportunity to upset Duke in the first round? In Pyeongchang, the reigning world champions from France—coached by Michel Krzyzewski, I can only assume—are Duke. Who fills the role of the scrappy underdog? Let’s say Argentina, which was one of the eight national teams that lost in the first round at the most recent world championships. Go Argentina! Beat Duke!

The favorites: On account of their recent world title, the French team has to be considered the favorites. The nation’s medal chances may have dipped a bit, though, when Mathieu Faivre was sent home after telling reporters that he did not care how well his teammates did. You know who else won’t be skiing in the mixed Alpine team event? Faivre’s girlfriend, American skier Mikaela Shiffrin. Lindsey Vonn and Ted Ligety also won’t be skiing for the USA. “I don’t really think we have a strong chance of getting a medal since none of our top athletes are doing it so I probably won‘t,” Vonn recently told reporters. So get ready to root for a bunch of American skiers you’ve never heard of—and get ready to put your money on France or Slovakia, which finished a narrow second in the world championships.

Would this event be better biathlon-ized? Of course! The competing skiers should have to shoot at each other with paintball guns while navigating the course.

Why wasn’t this event already in the Winter Olympics? Because mixed team Alpine skiing only debuted as an FIS-sanctioned event in December 2014.

Should this be in the Winter Olympics? I’m going to say no! While it will still likely be fun to watch, the team event does not seem to be a priority for any of the top Alpine skiers in Pyeongchang, many of whom have already left South Korea to rest and prepare for an upcoming World Cup event in Slovenia. Before the games began, Team USA coach Sasha Rearick assured Reuters that “the Americans had been practicing the team event and were taking it seriously,” which I interpreted as an admission that they hadn’t been practicing and weren’t taking it seriously. The marquee American skiers’ complete disinterest in this event validates my initial suspicion. If nobody wants to ski in this event, then the event shouldn’t exist.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

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