These 'sports' really appeared in the Olympics
The process of how one of these for-display-only events gets a Winter Games tryout remains a mystery.
But after examining the 90-year history of Olympic demonstration sports, it seems clear they are conceived late at night in the hotel bars of Lausanne, Switzerland, after International Olympic Committee convention delegates have had a little too much schnapps.
"Hey, Wolfgang, let's add some winter demonstrations sports!"
"What about Ice Cold Beer Pong!"
"Anyone for Ice Fishing?"
"No, no, it must be Speed Shoveling!"
"Let's do curling! Oh, sorry, I keep forgetting."
How else can you account for military patrol and skijoring?
Demonstration sports are just that. The IOC occasionally adds one to an Olympic schedule as a sort of test balloon.
If the competition goes well, if fans and media react favorably, and if equipment companies line up to be sponsors, the sport might have an Olympic future.
That's, for example, how snowboarding, freestyle skiing, curling, and short-track speedskating got on board.
But often they surface and quickly disappear, like the television reception here.
Take the first winter demonstration sport, military patrol. It was tried out at the initial Winter Games, in 1924 in Chamonix, France.
In retrospect, the two world wars now make sense.
Each nation fielded a four-man military unit - an officer, a noncommissioned officer, and two privates. They were armed with rifles, pistols, backpacks, and skis, and told to climb a mountain.
Hey, isn't that the plot to The Eiger Sanction?
Shooting in the Olympics has never made much sense to me. Maybe that's because I'm an American. We've got the most heavily armed nation on the planet, yet I doubt we've ever finished better than 46th in the biathlon.
But shooting by soldiers? In competition with foreign soldiers? On skis? While climbing a mountain in the middle of winter?
That's a recipe for an international incident.
What kind of lame-brained sporting organization would sanction something so patently ridiculous and dangerous? The same one, it turns out, that would stage a Winter Olympics in a subtropical city close to nothing but terrorist hotbeds.
The judges for that military-patrol competition were not Olympic officials. They were military officers.
Try to imagine a 16-year-old French volunteer demanding that a Prussian field marshal remove his pickelhaube (that helmet with the point on top) and Iron Cross before passing through a Chamonix metal detector.
Military patrol, which eventually morphed into the biathlon - thankfully, a civilian biathlon - actually made it onto the official Olympic schedule at a few subsequent Games.
Fortunately, at the first, in 1928 in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the peace-loving Norwegians, Finns, and Swiss won the medals. If the fifth-place Germans had made it to the podium, it's likely Switzerland would have been annexed.
To no one's surprise, in the military-patrol competition, the French finished last.
That brings us to skijoring.
In skijoring, a skier is pulled by a team of horses (or dogs).
Now it's been some time since I last covered skijoring - it may have been Super Skijor at Altoona in 1978 - but if a skier has a team of horses to transport him, why does he need skis?
And where do you think that competition took place in skijoring's one and only Olympic appearance - at those same 1928 Games in St. Moritz?
On a mountainside? At the Olympic Skijor Center? In an open field?
No, atop a frozen lake.
So to sum up Olympic skijoring: Dozens of two-ton animals race Ben Hur-like across a body of water where the only thing between the skiers and fatal submersion is a thin layer of ice.
To make things more perilous for those pioneering skijorers, the weather in St. Moritz was unseasonably warm in 1928.
Skijoring was never heard from again, and from what I understand, neither were the skijorers.
Germany hosted the '36 Winter Games. Are you surprised that military patrol was back as a demonstration sport?
Also on the demo agenda at Hitler's Winter Olympics was ice stock.
Ice stock is a lot like curling except that curling hasn't yet become extinct.
It's played on ice - a frozen lake will do but, please, hitch your horses - with sliding disks that resemble curling stones except that they have sticks, or stocks, attached.
Some play it like ice-quoits, in which the object is to get your disk close to a target. Others merely see how far they can slide the disk. Still others use it as an excuse to get drunk or, as we refer to its U.S. version, bowling.
It, too, was demonstrated in 1928, then again in 1964.
Then there's bandy, a demo sport at the '52 Games in Oslo, Norway.
Bandy is a cross between ice hockey and soccer.
Just what the Olympics needed, the merging of one sport in which the players pummel each other with another whose fans do.
Popular in Nordic countries - then again so was Max von Sydow - players armed with four-foot sticks bat a ball around an ice rink.
Could be April baseball in Denver.
Bandy, too, vanished after one Olympic appearance.
In Lake Placid in 1932, officials tried sled-dog races.
That one should have been revived in Sochi, where there are more stray dogs than functioning toilets.
Tobogganing, demonstrated in 1928, still isn't part of the Games, but it gave rise to skeleton, luge, and bobsled. Winter pentathlon (1956) was a combination of cross-country skiing, shooting, downhill skiing, fencing, and horseback riding.
Disabled skiing was so popular a demo sport in the '84 and '88 Games that it gave rise to the winter Paralympic Games. Rhythmic skating ('68) became ice dance.
So the next time your kids are playing in the snow, watch carefully. You could be witnessing the birth of a demonstration sport.