By Karolos Grohmann
SOCHI, Russia, Feb 12 (Reuters) - The women's ice hockey tournament at the Sochi Olympics may not yet be the most nail-biting event given the dominance of the North American teams but the IOC said progress was being made and thrashings avoided.
At the Vancouver 2010 Games then International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said the competition needed to improve because the quality gap between the Canadian and American teams and the rest was far too big with one-sided contests chipping away at spectator interest.
"We cannot continue without improvement," he said at the time.
His comments seem to have done the trick and teams have been split into a strong and weak group in Sochi with all nations from the former section advancing irrespective of their results but avoiding the all but absurd early mismatches of past Olympics.
"We are supportive. There have been some very good matches and we are very pleased," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said on Wednesday.
"It is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, isn't it? You have to get into the (Olympic sports) programme for the sport to develop worldwide."
The new format ensures the top teams progress while the other four battle for two knockout stage spots.
The changes have instantly avoided romps such as Canada's 18-0 win over Slovakia and the United States' 13-0 demolition of Russia in Vancouver.
The Sochi tournament is still expected to see another edition of the North American rivalry played out in the final but the sport was taking steps in the right direction, said Adams.
"It is clearly happening (improving) and we are very pleased with the progress that is being made," he added. (Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris)