Thursday, January 14, 2010

Soaring with the men

With the 21st Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, less than a month away, it will soon be time to showcase some of the world's best athletes, right? Well, not exactly, because there's one group of highly skilled athletes who you won't be seeing in these games: female ski jumpers.

A group of female ski jumpers filed suit in 2008 to be allowed to participate in the Vancouver games after the International Olympic Committee voted not to include women's ski jumping in 2010. The women pursued redress in the Canadian courts based on the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which, among other things, bans discrimination based on gender. In the end, they were denied when Canada's Supreme Court declined, without comment, to hear appeals of lower-court rulings that the charter does not apply to the selection of Olympic events.

The International Olympic Committee based its decision not to include women's ski jumping in Vancouver on what it said were technical criteria, in that there were two few elite competitors and too few countries that would compete to justify its inclusion. The committee left the door open to including women's ski jumping in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Let's face it, ski jumping is a pretty obscure sport, at least in North America. If they were asked to name a jumper, most people, including myself, would probably be hard-pressed to name anyone other than perhaps Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, the British jumper who made a name for himself in the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary by being endearingly bad.

Ski jumping has been, since its first inclusion in the Olympics in 1924, largely a sport of European men.

Among the other compelling theories that have been advanced about why the women were not allowed to compete in Vancouver is that there would be no money to be gained from it. The Olympic Games are a big source of advertising dollars, and those dollars usually chase the biggest events and the biggest names in sport.

But when all is said and done, I have to wonder, too, whether the women were not included because they pose a threat to the good-old-boys network. In most sports, were the best women allowed to compete against the best men, in almost all instances the women would lose — and lose in a pretty sound manner.

Ski jumping could have a very different outcome, however. Lindsey Van (shown above), an American jumper and one of the plaintiffs in the Canadian court case, holds the North American distance record — 171 meters, or 563 feet — and also has jumped farther than anyone — man or woman — on the 90-meter jump built for the Vancouver games.

Is it just coincidence that the IOC denied her bid to compete on the very hill on which she holds the record? We probably will never know. Van is now 25 years old, and it is doubtful that she would be a participant in the 2014 Games, should women be included by then.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I can't imagine being the best at something and then not be allowed to compete. Sorry Lindsey. :(