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Ski jumpers hope to make giant leap for womankind in equality struggle

Ashling O’Connor Times Online Sport 23.04.2009 19:22
Jessica Jerome (Getty Images)

Jessica Jerome (Getty Images)

For 85 years, ski jumping has been considered too unladylike for the Olympics and too dangerous for women, who, doctors said, risked injuring their uterus with the impact of sailing off a 90-metre ramp.

While the health experts have updated their views, Olympic officials have not, so a group of professional women ski jumpers launched a legal assault this week on the last male bastion in winter sports.

The civil lawsuit against the organiser of next year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver aims to create the first gender-equal Games in history. The 15 claimants, including female ski jumping’s first world champion, told the Supreme Court of British Columbia that if there is to be a king of the hill in 2010, there should also be a queen.

Citing human rights violations, they are seeking an injunction to force the organisers to accommodate female jumpers or drop the three events for the men.

“It’s discrimination,” said Deedee Corradini, president of Women’s Ski Jumping USA and a former Mayor of Salt Lake City, who successfully lobbied for women’s bobsleighing and skeleton to be included in the 2002 Winter Games in the Utah capital. “If the men are going to jump, then the women have to, too.”

In November 2006, the IOC rejected the bid for women’s ski jumping to be included in the Games, saying there were not enough world-class participants. It denies the charge of sexism, saying: “Decisions to include an event at the Olympic Games are taken on technical merit and with a global perspective. Women’s ski jumping does not reach the necessary technical criteria and as such does not yet warrant a place alongside other Olympic events.”

But the female athletes claim that their event is as universal as other winter sports. Women’s ski jumping had 99 competitors from 15 countries on the elite circuit last season. Only 30 women from 11 countries were competing in ski cross, the freestyle race that makes its debut in Vancouver, when it was accepted into the Olympic programme. Indeed, Lindsey Van, the American who won the first women’s World Championship this year, has soared farther than any man on the very hill in Whistler where the Olympic event will be held in February. Her record of 105.5 metres, set in January 2008, is half a metre better than a subsequent attempt by Guido Landert, from Switzerland.

Corradini claims that the IOC is protecting an old boys’ network and is hindering a sport that has come on in leaps and bounds since the 1920s, when a female jumper had to be accompanied down the ramp by a man holding her hand. “Male ski jumpers are treated like rock stars and they feel threatened because they would lose money to women who are jumping almost as far as them,” she said.

The case echoes that of female marathon runners, who battled the conventional view that completing a 26.2-mile race was too strenuous. The runners’ lawsuit failed, but they were allowed to compete in the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. The Vancouver Organising Committee (Vanoc) says that the IOC sets the rules for participation, but Ross Clark, the lawyer representing the women, said Vanoc was answerable because it had spent Can$580 million (about £322 million) of taxpayers’ money on Olympic venues, including the ski jump facilities.


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