I’m not particularly into winter sports, but today I discovered a fact that will have me tuning into today’s Women’s Ski Jump at the Sochi Olympics.
This is the first Olympics where women are allowed to compete in the Ski Jump competition.
Let’s just consider that, shall we. It was only in 2011 that the Olympics committee gave women the right to participate in a sport that men have been competing in since 1924.
Of course, nothing changed until 15 female jumpers from five countries sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the right to compete in the 2010 Winter Games. Which failed because the Canadian court decided it couldn’t impose local law on an international organisation. After that seeming defeat, came the grudging change.
Why, you might wonder, were women refused the right to participate? Well, here’s a quote from 2005 by Gian-Franco Kasper, who was head of the International Ski Federation. In an interview with NPR he first disparaged the range and ability of the women who were already ski jumping.
Then, of course, he had to bring it back to women’s delicate bodies:
“Don’t forget, it’s like jumping down from, let’s say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.”
This prejudice is not outdated. A few days ago Washington Post reported that the Russian men’s ski jump coach Alexander Arefyevs said he wasn’t a fan of women’s ski jumping.
“It’s a pretty difficult sport with a high risk of injury. If a man gets a serious injury, it’s still not fatal, but for women it could end much more seriously.” For good measure, Arefyev added: “Women have another purpose — to have children, to do housework, to create hearth and home.”
And let’s not think this is just because the ski jump is considered an ‘extreme sport’.
It was not until 2008 that women had all the same events on the Olympic track as men.
Women still wouldn’t be allowed to run the Marathon if it wasn’t for the first brave steps by the likes of Bobbi Gibb and Kathrine Switzer, who covertly entered – and finished – the Boston Marathon in the late 1960s. Women were not officially allowed to participate in that race until 1972, and it wouldn’t be until 1984 that women were allowed an Olympic Marathon.
I can’t imagine how difficult it’s been for the likes of Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome, and Sarah Hendrickson – American ski jumpers competing for the first time in the Sochi Olympics – who have had to fight for their entire careers to have their ability recognised. Van temporarily quit the sport in 2010, as she was so disillusioned by the failure of the court case against the Olympics.
At the 2002 Salt Lake City Games Van was a forerunner for the men’s competition, so she was one of those testing out the hills for Olympians.
“It was like, ‘You’re not good enough to be in the Olympics, but you’re good enough to test out the ski jump for the guys,’ ” said Van.
So, I’ll be tuning in this evening to cheer for the women participating in the inaugural ladies ski jump.
Not only have they had to train hard, they come to this Olympics with the terrible burden of having to fight to be even recognised, and no doubt will feel the need to prove their ability to silence the gainsayers.
Congratulations to Carina Vogt from Germany for winning this historic gold. Austria’s Daniela Iraschko-Stolz took silver and Coline Mattel of France got the bronze.