By Alan Baldwin
ROSA KHUTOR, Russia (Reuters) - Alpine skiing's governing body is making a fresh push for a nations team event to be included in the program for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
International Ski Federation (FIS) secretary general Sarah Lewis said on Thursday she was optimistic the plan would succeed this time, with broadcasters keen on the format and no extra athletes involved beyond those competing in other races.
The event has been part of the world championship program since 2005, with the top 16 nations in the FIS rankings competing in a knockout format.
Alpine skiing at the Olympics awards five gold medals for men and five for women - in downhill, super-G, super combined, giant slalom and slalom - and the nations event would mean mixed teams competing for an 11th gold.
Ski cross was added to the Games in 2010 and 12 new events entered the mix in 2014, including halfpipe and slopestyle in freestyle skiing and snowboarding, as well as women's ski jumping.
Lewis said Alpine skiing could offer the next novelty.
"Now we are confident that...they (the IOC) are very open and supportive of including the nations team event," Lewis told Reuters after a coaches' meeting on the eve of the last Alpine women's race of the Games.
"It's now matured to a level where it's really a highlight of the world championships...many people thought it was actually the best event.
"So we have a strong lobby behind it to say it's time to include it on the Olympic program."
The last new discipline introduced in Olympic Alpine skiing was the super-G in 1988, although the format of the combined event has been refined over the years.
Lewis said there was no question of dropping any of the existing races, despite grumblings by some countries about the combined event.
The piste used for the nations team event is shorter than a slalom and involves skiers in parallel races, man against man and woman versus woman in head-to-head competition.
"It's quite easy to bring in if perhaps you've got a bad forecast and can't do your speed events," said Lewis, who added that broadcasters liked the concept.
"NBC, who are the IOC's most important rights holders, will say that the Alpine skiing program in the second week is a little bit lightweight," she said.
The Alpine skiing at the Sochi Games ends on Saturday with the men's slalom. Monday and Thursday this week had no medal events.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Robert Woodward)