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While FasterSkier has not generally covered ski jumping in the past, we have been providing updates on the ongoing controversy involving Women’s Ski Jumping and the 2010 Olympic Games.  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not approve Women’s Ski Jumping for the Games, and in an effort to gain inclusion, a group of elite female ski jumpers sued in Canadian court on the premise that the IOC was violating the Canadian Charter granting equal rights.

The IOC has argued they do not fall under the auspices of Canadian law as they are an international organization based in Switzerland.  I am not a lawyer or a legal expert in any way, and I do know that there is precedent for this type of argument, but the idea that any international organization could ignore what amounts to human rights protections is absurd, and exceedingly dangerous.  Even the US military is subject to the laws of the nation in which they are deployed.

The trial wrapped up last Friday, and now both sides are waiting for the ruling.  A recap of the legal proceedings can be found here. You can get the women’s perspective at www.wsjusa.com. The site features a number of videos, including a trailer for the documentary, “Fighting Gravity.”

But legal issues aside, it is deplorable that the IOC, an organization that claims to promote the values of fair play and ethical principle would chose to exclude female ski jumpers from the Olympics without good reason.

An excerpt from the Olympic charter reads:

Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

Ethical principles?  There is nothing ethical about discrimination based on gender.  The IOC has made the following arguments for rejecting women’s ski jumping bid to be included in the Olympics, despite full FIS support:

  • Women’s Ski Jumping has not held the requisite two World Championship events.  This claim is completely true, but other sports have not been held to this standard in the past (i.e Women’s Marathon in 1984).
  • Women’s Ski Jumping is not at a high enough level.  Lindsey Van (USA) who won the first World Championship gold in Women’s Ski Jumping, holds the record for longest jump on the 100 meter Olympic hill in Whistler – that includes men!  Van’s medal winning performance in Liberec would have placed her 20th in the men’s competition.
  • There is not enough World Cup level participation.  Women’s Ski Jumping World Cup events easily feature more competitors than Ski Cross (admitted to the Olympics for the first time for 2010), Bobsleigh, and Luge.

Ron Judd of the Seattle Times recently posited in a blog post “that the IOC’s primary reason for denying [women's ski jumping] entrance in time for the Vancouver Games is that the IOC doesn’t like to be told what to do, or when — not by anybody, including VANOC, and certainly not by a group of pesky women ski jumpers.”

This is likely true, and while it is not surprising for an organization steeped in tradition to resist change, it is extremely disappointing.  The Olympics should be about passion, the pursuit of personal excellence, and the purity of sport.  The Games, and sport in general, are already marred by doping issues, prima dona and poorly behaved athletes, and wanton commercialism.  You would think the IOC would be in favor of promoting what is left of the true Olympic spirit.  Instead they appear as misogynistic and power hungry old men.

10 Responses to “Let Them Jump!”

  1. Lars Says:

    I agree the women should be allowed to jump, but I do not think that it should be decided by the Canadian legal system.

  2. Whistler Says:

    I think the whole Olympic movement needs a big re-think. Having lived through the planning a build up in my own community the political issues, expense and overwhelming “Olympic overlay” is huge, particularly this small community. The long term viability of events like the bobsled and luge just seems archaic. Sorry guys but standing watching sleds rip down and around a course that costs 120 million to build for watching a micro second of any run. Just seems s-s-s-o-o-o wasteful, of time resources, forest etc. ski jumping is the next one down the list. What are the events that can and will survive! Its called evolution and I don’t think that the Olympics should be a means to prop up and be a means to support sports that are just plan unsustainable.

  3. Lars Says:

    bobsled maybe but skijumping is big and the best athletes earn a lot of money so i don`t think that sport is unsustainable even if its not one of my favorites.

  4. Jen Says:

    Let’s keep in mind that this issue is not a referendum on our favorite Olympic sports, but rather one of gender equity.

  5. Jan Gerrit Klok Says:

    While we are at it, why are FIS and IBU still insulting women by giving them shorter race courses?
    Is the time spent to complete a given course by a man also the ideal time for the female winner? More often than not, women get to race MUCH shorter, by getting 10km in stead of 15km, 30km in stead of 50km, etc.
    Women are most capable at endurance sports. From the 100m running sprint to the 42km marathon, the relative time difference between male and female season best times, is a pretty constant linone e of around 10%. The last male to finish a race, even at WC level, tends to take longer than the best women would have.
    This is SO women-degrading. We should have one competition, and let the women quality for spots in the mens field. Task for the men is easy : beat the first “poor little fragile girl”.
    Male chauvinism. If they’d run together, fast skiers like Magdalena Neuner would just be ripping through the boys’ field. These girls are used to set their own pace, and would now be surrounded by many equal athletes, who happen to be relative poor skiers of the stronger sexe.
    Give them their own shorter race while the stadium is still filling, and their times cannot be compared to the boys.

    Why does this not happen in running and swimming, but it does happen in skiing, speed skating, etc? I have news for you : a women’s 400m free crawl takes longer than the men’s. And it’s exciting for all those extra few seconds.
    Women are just as much the rock stars of Olympic sports. Why are they then bound to be the side show rather than the feature race?

  6. Ben Arians Says:

    Responding to Jan Gerrit Kloks question about why shorter race distances for women: if you watch even a high level women’s race (world cup, Olympics, etc.) you will see how quickly the women’s field gets spread out, something that takes much longer in a men’s race. Just adding on kilometers in the interest of some misguided sense of “gender equity” is kind of silly. Saying top women would be competetive with the top men at world cup level is ridiculous, as is his statement that the women’s races are a sideshow. If a top woman did enter into the men’s field, that itself would be a sideshow (a la Michelle Wie in golf). Yay, there’s a woman competing for 75th place in a men’s 15km race instead of competing for a top 10 in a 10km women’s field. I know which I would find more exciting. Look at the figures from the 50 and 30km Mass start races from Liberec: The top 3 men had an average per Km time of approx. 2min 24sec. The top 3 women had an average per km time of about 2:30. Not much difference, right? But the women skied 20km less than the men. And, that 6secs per km works out to 3 minutes after only 30km, and 5 minutes after 50km, even without figuring in slower per km times for a 50km. Also, look at the depth: the top 20 men finished within approx 20 seconds of each other. The top 20 women were spread out over 3 minutes. Adding 20km to their race would simply be an excercise in masochism in the name of “gender equity”. I’m sure if you put it to Magdalena Neuner whether she would prefer to finish in the back half of a top men’s field or at the front of a top women’s field, she’d probably rather compete with the women. Regarding the swimming anology: it’s a 400M freestyle, not a 40km, and we’re talking about a couple extra seconds not 15 minutes. A women’s distance race gets established pretty quickly in the first 5km, a comparable men’s field takes much longer. Granted, the women’s marathon is the same distance as the men’s, but I would say that there is a bit more depth in the world-wide elite marathon running field than in nordic skiing.
    Saying women should be covering the same distances as men in World Cup races simply disregards basic physiological strength differences between men and women. A sport that requires as much upper body strength as does nordic skiing should require different distances to help keep the racing from becoming simply races of attrition.

  7. FasterSkier Says:

    A quick aside in regards to Ben’s statement that women’s races are not “sideshows.” It is true that women’s xc racing is definitely NOT considered a sideshow, however, women’s events are generally not attended nearly as well as men’s events. This was clearly evident at the 30/50km that I attended in Norway. The women’s races were first, and the crowd was small, the bleachers mostly empty. By the time the men’s race started everything was packed. And this in Norway, supposedly the biggest ski country in the World. Of course given the fact the races were so long, and of a format that is usually boring, it wasn’t unreasonable to show up for the exciting part of the women’s race (the end) and then stay for the men.

    But the men’s races usually get the prime coverage. Just look at sprints – the main event is the men’s A-Final. Always. I think it is safe to say that men’s racing currently draws more spectators and is given more coverage.

  8. Don Haering Says:

    I don’t think the attendance and television coverage is meant to degrade women. Anyone who watches a women’s ski race realizes that those ladies are super BA. Event organizers and TV producers are just responding the the demand of the masses, and the masses love the head to head intensity and carnage which is more typically associated with the men’s field because the men usually race in a tighter pack and get more physical. Even if you don’t follow skiing, you can appreciate the intensity of a pack sprint finish or seeing Northug destroy everyone in the last kilometer. To appreciate a women’s distance race, you typically need to follow ski racing a little more closely. Its a little different in sprinting and there is much less excuse to give precedence to the men. However, due to the format of sprints, I think its less of an issue anyway.

  9. Ron Says:

    Having watched a half dozen female jumpers fly off the Olympic park jump, I think the IOC owes it to the public audience to let them see what these girls can do. Its a long way down a ski jump. I was amazed at their skill level, nerve and talent. At this venue, during the games, my prediction is equal interest in the womens competition as the mens. Let them jump!

  10. Jan Gerrit Klok Says:

    Ben, you are mentioning mass starts. I also notice that the men stay to gether more. Then, that may be partly due to them being taller, and having a greater component of air resistance to fight. Having nearly the same ski length (draft distance), skiing 10% faster by sexe, AND standing taller, men may more easily follow an athletes putting in X% more effort.
    A strong girl is harder to follow for a 1% weaker girl than it is for a 1% weaker man to follow the strong one.
    If large packs of men skiing two hours as a group training before letting the sprinters to their thing is more exciting to watch, then so be it.

    But, also in individual races (my personal favorite actually as a sport, not so as a viewing sport), women get to go shorter distances than the men. Organizers go through the trouble of re-routing the course, taking out the main or extra climbs, in order to allow the girls to have a nice little race on the same venue.

    You’ll have notice I’m a total fan of girl power, but I did not mean I want one girl to take pon all the men. In a mixed field, TV cams could switch between the men’s and ladies’ races. It would enhance the female sport image to see them putting the hurt on professional male athletes, perhaps even smaller ski countries’ national champions.
    In running marathons, you get the undesirable effect of strong amateurs working as windshield for the girls. Sometimes they let the girls start ahead by the difference between the men’s and ladies’ world or cours records, so they end up finishing about the same time.

    In my country there is a an end-of-season MTB race, where we get one of the largest fields of the season. All categories start together for 54km of fast forrest trails, sometime muddy singletrack, and some sand trap passases.
    Daphny vd Brand once managed 50th overall there, in a field of 1000+ men. The top 50 being a spread from Olympics champs to Olympians, WC attendees, and hightly serious amateurs. And a girl specialized in and focussed on 40-minute cyclo-cross racing, gets to keep her own.

    I’ve myself ridden against the likes of WC podium condending ladies in a off-road stage races, and can tell you that indeed these ladies are BA. The top ones are so much in a league of their own, that it may not feel like a race to them at times. Too few girls in the sport to make it a dense field.

    To me, that doesn’t mean the race should be shorter. Perhaps the courses should be specially designed to even out the differences a bit, if possible. Men’s courses seem to be designed to get them to let go of each other rather than their tendency to just clutter together till it matters.

    I must say, that I’ve seen some bithlon WC’s now, where the women’s race was the last event of a day. The girls are superstars as well, jut do not get to do a 20km. With shooting in the mix, there’s the equalizer (mixer) viewers are looking for. I could watch a 70km women’s biathlon race and not be gotten away from the screen.