Let the Women Fly

The calendar may say 2010, but for women ski jumpers it’s still feeling like the 1950s when men competed and women watched. Ski jumping is the only winter Olympic event that doesn’t have a female competition.

In October, the 12-member executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) met in Acapulco, Mexico to consider adding new events to the 2014 Winter Games, which will take place in Sochi, Russia.  The wannabes include women’s ski jumping as well as ski halfpipe, ski and snowboard slopestyle and three coed events: biathlon mixed team relay, figure skating team event and luge team relay.

Blame it on the margaritas or maybe the sun, but the old boys couldn’t bring themselves to say “si “to the women ski jumpers’ request to join the Games. Instead, they said “wait and see.”

Yet the women ski jumpers and their supporters took hope from this latest non-decision. After all, the board didn’t say no, as it did at the Torino and Vancouver Olympics. But pushing the decision off until next spring, after the next World Cup event, is a major cop-out. Olympic athletes are supported by their national organizations, while non-Olympic athletes must raise their own money to compete. Olympic athletes stay in hotels with queen-size mattreses, while non-Olympic ones sleep on friends’ couches. Olympic athletes can earn millions from advertising endorsements, while non-Olympic ones work low-paying jobs that give them flexibility to train.

Jacques Rogge, the Belgian yachtsman who is the president of the IOC, insists that he needs more time to see if the sport has evolved. Perhaps someone should tell Rogge that ski jumping is older than he is: He was born in 1942 and women have been ski jumping since the 1920s. Women jumpers took a hiatus starting in the 1950s, however, when doctors said that the sport was too dangerous for them–that it might damage their female organs.  No one worried if the men jumpers, who wear thin lycra onesy suits, risk frostbite on their private parts.

The women ski jumpers hoped that they would be allowed to jump at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games,  because Canada has an antidiscrimination charter. But the IOC was not going to be governed by a host nation’s pesky law, and the women were denied their Olympic berth. As a last resort, the jumpers filed a lawsuit charging gender discrimination and asking the Canadian courts to allow them into the Games.  The judge found evidence of gender discrimination, but ruled that the IOC was not subject to Canada’s anti-discrimination laws.

It was hard to watch men’s ski jumping in Vancouver knowing that the women were on the sidelines and that a woman, Lindsey Van, held the record jump on the competition hill before the Games began. And it was hard to watch alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn (with an o not an a) win a gold medal knowing that ski jumper Van wasn’t allowed to compete. But it was especially hard to explain to my seven-year-old niece, whose mother was an Olympic rower, why the women ski jumpers couldn’t compete.  “Because their girls?” she asked.  That’s right, Zara, because they’re girls.  “That’s not fair,” she pointed out.

Jacques Rogge, are you listening?

Photo of Holmenkollen ski jump in Norway under license from Creative Commons 3.0.

Comments

  1. What a bunch of fat men from the old country! This is gender discrimination and the IOC needs to change their wimpy maybe to a yes. Shame on them.

  2. "But it was especially hard to explain to my seven-year-old niece, whose mother was an Olympic rower, why the women ski jumpers couldn’t compete. “Because their girls?” she asked. That’s right, Zara, because they’re girls. “That’s not fair,” she pointed out."

    THIS. No, it's not fair, and we're going to keep fighting every day until it IS.

  3. heatheraurelia13 says:

    You said, one of the woman's name was "Van" and the other woman's was "Vonn." But you spelled "Vonn" with a letter 'a' instead of a letter 'o.'

    • Fixed it! I actually spelled Van with two 'n's"–how much more confusing could those two skiiers make it for us journalists!! :) :)

  4. I know it's not exactly a neutral audience, but this is a particularly one-sided argument. Women's ski jump is not an Olympic sport for the same reason that many people (Canadians and Americans included) are talking about eliminating women's hockey. There's no competition.

    Olympic medals mean something and the IOC doesn't want to devalue them by handing them out to every group that can put together a Facebook page. Ski jump proponents have shown that their sport may meet the competitive level of the weakest current sports, but there is a feeling among IOC members that the games have already expanded too quickly and into too many fringe sports, so meeting the absolute bare minimum won't be enough.

    If you want to see Women's Ski Jump as an Olympic sport, start ski jumping. Don't just sit behind a glowing screen and complain about an outrage you know nothing about and have done nothing to fight.

    • MIchele Morris says:

      As one of the original events at the first Winter Olympics held in Chamonix, France in 1924, ski jumping hardly ranks as a fringe sport.

      The roster kept by the International Ski Federation (FIS) shows that 16 countries have women ski jumping teams. Probably there would be more if the event was an Olympic sport and got more funding.

      This boils down to the age-old chicken and her egg problem. Without financial support from national Olympic committees (NOCs), the sport attracts fewer competitors—and without Olympic status, NOCs are less likely to support the sport.

      The IOC can give all the excuses it wants, but the fact remains that ski jumping is the only Olympic sport that does not have a female competition. This is gender discrimination plain and simple. It’s long past time to right this wrong.

  5. Reply to "Reason" above:
    Popularity of sports wax and wane. Maybe more women would compete if jumping were an Oly sport. Labeling it a "fringe" sport throws it in with snowboard cross, etc. but women's jumping is a classic winter sport that demands acceptance by the IOC. Failure to do so continues discriminatory practices. At what point will women receive what is their right and be able to relax their vigilance?

  6. Great post. I am going to send this to the Women's Sports Foundation. Maybe there is something they can do to help! My good friend is on the board. Blessings. JZ

  7. here, here Michele!
    From my personal experience with my own son and with Olympic caliber athletics in general – the inside political climate that prevails is discouraging at best. You would think that a culture that was formed to honor excellence would welcome excellence from all avenues – not just in what has become the "norm."
    I hope that if enough people raise their voices – the 'good ole boys' will wake up and smell the 21st century!
    I doing my small part – right now I have hanging a great painting that one of my artists did as a tribute to the U.S. Women's Ski Jumping (http://utahands.com/artists/koolmees/outdoor_portfolio.html)- and literature from the team. I guess it all starts with education – and you're doing a great job getting the word out! Keep it up!

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