Why women can't ski jump in the Winter Olympics
Women ski jumpers sue for the right to compete in the Vancouver Olympics and stop men from jumping if women can't.
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AMERICAN SKI JUMPER JESSICA JEROME, fresh from winning the US Nationals in Lake Placid, N.Y., last month, says she understands the commercial pressures on the IOC: "The Olympics for so long has been what Mom and Dad sit down to watch while the kids are out skateboarding or snowboarding – doing these things that are radical and rebellious."Skip to next paragraph
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But while she acknowledges that X-Games sports will increase viewership and revenue – benefiting all Olympic sports, ski jumping is no less daring. "I think it's one of the most ex-treme sports ... it's got that dangerous element, but it's also got that beautiful, elegant thing to it," she says.
BUT WHILE THE WOMEN jumpers recognize the need to grow the sport, they say they face discrimination at every level – a point supported by a 2009 book by Western European sports scholars, "Sport and Gender Matters in Western Countries."
"Barred from serious competition for decades because jumping was not deemed appropriate for females, women ski jumpers have not been able to establish the appropriate experience in international level training and competition and to gain the type of 'technical merit' required...." concluded a chapter on ski jumping that also notes women were jumping as early as the 1920s.
"Jumping is a very traditional European old-men type of sport. They think that women will take away the extremeness of it," says Ms. Jerome,
Women jumpers got their first international circuit in 2004, and were allowed to compete at world championships for the first time last year. But in a sport in which the best European men are treated like rock stars and pocket roughly $10,000 per win, the women are only allowed to compete on a secondary circuit that awards winners $500. And, says Ms. Jerome, women are treated very differently. She and her teammates have eaten meals with barn cats jumping on the table and slept above livestock stalls in lodging arranged by competition organizers.
Even after Ms. Van won world championships last year, the US Ski Team – facing an 18 percent budget cut – dropped all funding for women's jumping, and men's, too.
THE BRITISH COLUMBIA Court of Appeal must now decide whether VANOC should refuse to hold men's ski jumping unless women are allowed to compete.
VANOC attorney George McIntosh argued before Judge Lauri Ann Fenlon that as host, VANOC implements, but can't control, the Olympic program. And while she ultimately found in VANOC's favor, she put his argument into stark relief when she asked Mr. McIntosh if VANOC would plead the same point if blacks weren't allowed to compete in the Vancouver Olympics. His answer, after an awkward silence, was yes.
VANOC has encouraged the IOC to include women's ski jumping, and if that happened, officials say, the Vancouver machine would be able to accommodate the women.
Without that action at the IOC level, however, no one is sure what to expect if the court upholds the women's appeal.
"It's unprecedented," says McIntosh, who half jokes that to enforce such a ruling, "[The VANOC chief] would have to be standing at the top of the jump with a bayonet." •