Women’s ski jumping ready to soar

Photo: Mht54321 / Wikimedia Jessica Jerome in flight at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Park City, UT. Along with Lindssey Van and Sarah Hendrickson, she’ll compete in the first Olympic women’s ski jumping event.

Photo: Mht54321 / Wikimedia
Jessica Jerome in flight at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Park City, UT. Along with Lindssey Van and Sarah Hendrickson, she’ll compete in the first Olympic women’s ski jumping event.

Among new Olympic events like freeskiing, snowboarding, team figureskating, and luge relay, women’s ski jumping readies to lift off at Sochi

John Erik Stacy
Norwegian American Weekly

Girls and women have been ski-jumping since – well – since the invention of skis, probably. But until recently women were only seen as “exhibition” jumpers in premier competitions. At major events, women took the first few runs to break in the tracks. But only guys got points and medals. Hm.

This means that women have been jumping “unofficially” for a while. Where did they come from? Well, people in the know can tell you that women have been a significant part of Nordic jumping at the junior and local level for quite a while.

This 2014 games will be the first to include women ski-jumpers. Norway and the U.S. will each send three women to Sochi: Line Jahr (30, Vikersund), Maren Lundby (19, Kolbu), and Helena Olsson Smeby (30, Trondheim); Sarah Hendrickson (19), Jessica Jerome (27), and Lindsey Van (29, Park City, Utah). Of these athletes, American Sarah Hendrickson has the best record by far, with 13 FIS World Cup victories and 22 podiums total. The Norwegian team will be missing one of its best jumpers, Anette Sagen, due to an injury she suffered (she fainted on a flight from Hawaii and hurt her shoulder).

Women had to fight to be accepted as legitimate jumpers. Only as recently as 2009 were women included to compete at World Cup level events. The decision to establish a women’s category came down from the International Ski Federation (FIS) a full three years earlier. At the time, FIS submitted a proposal to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to create a women’s event for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, but this was rejected on the grounds that female skijumping competitions had yet to be established at an international level. Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee stated that women’s ski jumping would not appear in the Vancouver Olympics because, “we do not want the medals to be diluted and watered down,” apparently implying that the talent pool was too variable to make the competition meaningful.

Women jumpers disagreed and filed suit against the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) pointing out that excluding females is against Canadian law. By June 2009 Canadian judges ruled against the women on the grounds that the issue was a matter for IOC and not VANOC (although they conceded that the women were being discriminated against under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms). However, by 2011 the IOC decided to stop trying to mumble its way out of it and accepted women’s ski jumping intothe official Olympic program for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Lindsey Van had been involved in the legal wrangling that brought the issue to a head. When the decision was announced she commented, “People expected me to be ecstatic, but I’d been after this for so long, it just didn’t sink in at first.” It was a long time in coming.

There are – obviously – well-seasoned female competitors in the winter sports nations of the world. Although the number of women jumpers in the FIS roster are only about one tenth of the men, this situation is largely a product of their more recent inclusion among world competitors.

There is clearly no reason why Nordic jumping should exclude women. To cite danger and injuries in ski-jumping as an argument for keeping the ladies out would also – to be consistent – have to be applied to downhill racing, luge, and other potentially high impact sports that have allowed women for decades. As for how women perform on the jump, they are generally lighter than men and therefore have an advantage while soaring, but a disadvantage for gaining speed in the approach. Currently, men hold all the records, but they should watch their backs!

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 7, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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