Why can't women compete in Olympic ski jumping?

It's the only Olympic sport that women are excluded from -- and there's no good reason why.

Published February 7, 2006 7:57PM (EST)

Even though gnarly sports like women's snowboarding, bobsledding and snowboard cross have been added to the Olympic roster in recent years, female ski jumpers will not be competing in Turin, Italy, this month. The only Olympic sport that excludes women, ski jumping has, among other things, been deemed too risky -- even though women participate in the arguably more dangerous freestyle aerial-jumping competition, which involves flipping and rotating in the air on skis.

"When I first got started, everything that I did up at the jumps was the same as the guys," Jessica Jerome, an 18-year-old national ski-jumping champion on the 90-meter hill told CBSNews.com. "We coached the same, we had the same equipment, we were treated the same. It never really occurred to me that it wasn't an Olympic sport."

So even after all that training, Jerome and the two other American women who are ranked among the world's top 10 female ski jumpers will be sitting out this year's Games. Amazingly, it is women's ski jumping's own oversight group that has not yet agreed to make it a world-class sport.

"Before the women are eligible for Olympic competition, they need to hold a world championship. But their ability to do so is determined by the International Federation of Skiing -- and some members of the federation's governing board aren't so sure women jumpers are ready for that," according to CBSNews.com. "The FIS would have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to put on a world championship for women jumpers. FIS president Gian Franco Casper isn't sure the women warrant that kind of substantial investment. He suggests that their numbers might still be too small."

But that suggestion doesn't really hold water considering there are more experienced competitors in ski jumping than in bobsledding or skeleton. Another reason given for the exclusion of women is the fact that the impact from repeated jumps might damage a female competitors' uterus or abdomen.

Question: When will female athletes stop being punished for being female?

By Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

MORE FROM Lori Leibovich

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