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Ski jumping inclusion a giant leap for equality

Posted: Thursday, April 7, 2011 | 09:25 AM

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Make no mistake - the inclusion of women's ski jumping beginning with the 2014 Olympics in Sochi is a major victory for all females who love sport.

The decision takes the Olympics, long an archaic "old boys" institution, that much closer to equality of the sexes - a battle that's been going on for a very long time, and still isn't over.
ski-jump-584.jpgWomen's ski jumpers like Anette Sagen of Norway, here competing at the 2009 world championships in the Czech Republic, now have a chance to be Olympicans. (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

Make no mistake - the inclusion of women's ski jumping beginning with the 2014 Olympics in Sochi is a major victory for all females who love sport.

The decision 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 male-only events on a competition program that had discriminated against women 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.

Marshall is also the Deputy Provost at the University of Alberta and the former coach of the national women's field hockey team.

"This is a powerful statement by the Olympic committee," Marshall says. "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 speedskating, didn't see women compete until 1952 and 1956, respectively. Olympic women's hockey didn't start until the Nagano Games in 1998, and women's bobsleigh first appeared at the 2002 Salt Lake City 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 per cent of the athlete population was female."

Beckie Scott, an Olympic gold medallist in cross-country skiing, is one of Canada's International Olympic Committee members. She waged her own two-year battle with the governing body of the Games when it was found that the two Russian athletes who finished ahead of her in Salt Lake City were doping.

She knows first hand that it sometimes takes awhile for fairness and the Olympics to meet in the middle.

"I would have been very surprised and disappointed had the decision not gone this way for women's ski jumping," Scott says. "The women's ski jumping federation, together with the athletes, waged a long, courageous fight to be included in the Olympics, and I'm really excited for them that they will finally be there."

Amen to that.

There's plenty of room for men and women to compete in all sports on the Olympic field of play.

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