Make no mistake, the inclusion of women’s ski jumping beginning in the 2014 Sochi Olympics is a major victory for all females who love sport.
It takes the Olympics, long an archaic “old boys” institution, that much closer to an equality of the sexes.
Ski jumping and Nordic Combined were the last holdouts on a competition program, which had discriminated against females since the Winter Games began in Chamonix in 1924.
Now Nordic Combined remains the last hurdle to leap over.
“I hope we’re beyond the days when people thought there were physiological differences that prevented women from competing in sport,” says Dru Marshall, the chair of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS).
Marshall is also the Deputy Provost at the University of Alberta and the former national women’s field hockey coach.
“This is a powerful statement by the Olympic committee,” Marshall stresses. “It moves towards gender equity at the Games at a time when women are more involved in physical activity and sport than they have been at any period in history. These women will be terrific role models.”
It’s been a long road to get here and not without major bumps.
The only females to appear at the first Winter Games in Chamonix were figure skaters. Sports integral to the Olympics such as cross country skiing and speed skating didn’t see women compete until 1952 and 1956 respectively. The men have always been in at the very beginning. Olympic women’s hockey is as recent as Nagano in 1998 and women’s bobsleigh first appeared at the 2002 Salt Lake Games.
Balance is finally on the horizon, even though it’s taken court battles for women to claim their share of the spotlight. There have been myriad questions about depth and quality of competition. Two failed bids for Olympic inclusion and challenges to the B.C. Supreme Court as well as the Supreme Court of Canada have meant plenty of disappointment for a generation of aspiring female ski jumpers.
“They have shown great tenacity and courage in the face of adversity,” says Marshall. “We’re getting close. At the last two Olympics about 44 percent of the athlete population was female.”Amen to that.
There’s plenty of room for men and women to compete in all sports on the Olympic field of play.