Four years ago here at Broadsheet, Lori Leibovich asked why women couldn’t compete in ski jumping in the 2006 Winter Olympics. With the Vancouver Winter Olympics right around the corner, it's a question worth revisiting. Ski jumping and Nordic Combined -- an event that combines ski jumping and cross-country skiing -- are still the only two fields closed off to women in the Olympics. It's not for lack of interest or talent: Almost 200 women from over 15 countries are registered as competitors in the International Ski Federation. Last year, women's ski jumping debuted at the Nordic World Ski Championships, and the USA’s own Lindsey Van claimed the gold.
Last year, Van and 14 other women ski jumpers sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee for gender discrimination and lost. Officially, the International Olympics Committee argued that the exclusion of women’s ski jumping was for "technical issues, without regard to gender" -- "technical issues" meaning that the IOC deemed there were too few women to compete. (Though, as Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon wrote in her ruling, "If the IOC had applied the criteria for admission of new events to both men's and women's ski jumping events, neither group would be competing in the 2010 Games.”) Unofficially, one of the pervasive rumors floating around about the sport is that ski jumping could potentially damage female fertility -- a contention that stems from a comment by International Ski Federation president and IOC member Gian-Franco Kasper in a 2005 NPR interview that ski jumping "seems to not be appropriate for the ladies from a medical point of view." (As Professor Ruth Gregory, the brains behind a lady ski jumping documentary "Jump Like a Girl" points out, the same argument was once used to exclude women from marathon running.)
So are the medical risks for women ski jumpers actually greater than those for men? Dr. Kathleen Weber, head of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program at Rush University in Chicago, doubts it. "I just think it’s farfetched," she explained. "I know of no scientific studies that have shown ski jumping to have any negative effect on females that would be different from a male jumper."
As Rush notes, landing from those heights and speeds has an impact on anyone -- male or female -- and the main concern is proper training, not gender. "Women are allowed to jump from airplanes and parachute all the time. There’s never been an exclusion based on a pelvic floor." Rush’s advice to the jumpers? "We need to keep foraging forward, showing that women can do these kind of things unless they can show scientific proof."
So, no dice, Kasper. From a medical standpoint, ski jumping looks just as appropriate for women as it does for men. Women have proved that they can compete at a high athletic level in everything from bobsledding to shotput. They should be allowed to ski jump, too.