Why are there so many random events in the Winter Olympics?

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The Opening Ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi begin momentarily, but the competition has already started. The athletes have too much work ahead of them to wait. As the chart above (from The Economist) shows, the number of events in the Winter Olympics has increased steadily and is now approaching 3 digits. About 20 events have been added just since the Salt Lake City competition in 2002. The largest increase is in the category The Economist dismisses as “cool,” as they primarily appeal to younger audiencese. The ski half-pipe, for example, is new this year, an event which will cause viewers to discover suddenly how much respect they genuinely have for curling.

The chart reveals something else about the Winter Olympics: for much of its history, the Winter Olympics were dominated by Communist countries. The Soviet Union reliably took the most gold medals until its collapse, followed by East Germany before unification. This was the context for the U.S. hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” against the Soviets in Lake Placid, N.Y. in 1980. More than 20 years defunct, the Soviet Union still claims the third most gold medals overall.

History is particularly worth remembering this week in Sochi, as animosity between Moscow and Washington has reached its highest pitch in decades. This time, though, is very different. Tensions are no longer a result of the ideological dispute between the West and Communism, which is no longer seen as a plausible alternative to the free market. So far, Sochi has done more to reveal the incompetence of Vladimir Putin’s regime than its power and authority.

Click below for The Washington Post’s Feb. 23, 1980 story about the U.S. victory over the Soviet Union in hockey.

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