Gender inequality exists everywhere you look. From politics to poverty to education, women and girls often get the short end of the stick. In the 90 years since the first Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix Mont-Blanc, ski jumping has been considered an official Olympic sport – at least for men.
Similar to women’s marathoning in the 1970s and 1980s, women’s ski jumping was deemed ‘too dangerous’ for a woman’s body. In 2005, International Ski Federation President and IOC member Gian Franco Kasper claimed that the women’s ski jumping “seems not to be appropriate from a medical point of view.” A popular argument against women’s ski jumping was that the sport could be damaging to a woman’s reproductive organs.
I’ve had people ask me had my uterus fallen out yet.” ~ Lindsey Van, US Olympic Women’s Ski Jumper
Last month, Alexander Arefyev, coach of Russia’s men’s ski jumping team, said, “If I had a daughter, I would never allow her to jump – it is too much hard work…Women have a different purpose: to raise children, do the housework.”
Today, women’s ski jumping makes its debut at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. However, the road to recognition has been anything but easy.
In 1991, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that all future Olympic sports must be open to both genders. Unfortunately, this new rule did not apply to sports already in place, including ski jumping.
In 2006, women’s ski jumping in the Winter Olympics finally won the support of the International Ski Federation (FIS) – making the sport a very real contender for the 2010 Games in Vancouver. However, the IOC’s executive committee (made up of 75% men) stalled, arguing that not enough countries competed internationally to allow for the sport’s inclusion. At that year, 83 women ski jumpers from 14 nations were jumping at the elite level – a figure higher than that of Olympic women’s bobsled, luge, skeleton and snowboard cross.
In 2008, active and retired ski jumpers from five different countries filed suit against the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee. The controversial court case dragged on until November 2009, when it finally was dismissed. However, even though the court dropped the case, not all hope was lost.
It soon became apparent that the athletes’ argument made a clear impression on the IOC Executive Board because, in April of 2011, the IOC declared women’s ski jumping (normal hill) an official 2014 Sochi Olympic Games program.
In the sport’s inaugural year, 30 women from 12 different countries will compete – and we can only expect more in the years to come.
We’ve got our foot in the door with getting an event in the Olympics. From here, we’re just going to keep going.” ~ Jessica Jerome, US Olympic Women’s Ski Jumper
Be sure to watch today and the rest of this week as these strong and determined women soar into Olympic history.
For more reading on the story behind women’s Olympic ski jumping debut:
- The Story Behind Women’s Olympic Ski Jumping
- The Vancouver Court Case
- “Sochi 2014: Women’s ski jumpers ready to prove their Olympic mettle” – The Washington Post
- “Women’s ski jumping ready for a Sochi takeoff” – The Boston Globe
Cover image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.