Women ski jumpers plead Olympic case

A group of women ski jumpers addressed the media Thursday in Vancouver to explain why they should be allowed to compete at the Vancouver/Whistler Olympics in 2010.

Lindsey Van and Karla Keck of the United States don't want to be women's ski jump coaches forced to tell aspiring Olympians there is no future in the sport.

They are two of the four active and former jumpers who addressed the media in Vancouver on Thursday to explain why women should be allowed to compete at the 2010 Vancouver/Whistler Olympics.

In all, nine jumpers from Norway, Austria, Germany, Slovenia and the U.S. are frustrated the International Olympic Committee did not include the sport for the 2010 Winter Games.

A statement of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday against the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee (VANOC) stated the failure to include a women's ski-jumping event at the Games is discriminatory and based on stereotypes of the types of activities suitable for women.

"I want the court to make this right," Van told CBC Newsworld after the news conference. "I want the court to force VANOC to force the IOC to say yes, and include us in the Olympic Games in Canada."

The lawsuit argues VANOC had previously told the IOC it didn't want to include women's ski jumping because of budget constraints and its position determined or influenced the Olympic committee's vote against women's ski jumping, the only event at the Winter Games closed to women.

The athletes are suing VANOC rather than the IOC because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies only to governmental organizations in Canada.

A 12-time American champion, Van said the group simply wants the same opportunity as male ski jumpers, "who have World Cup, Continental Cup and every event there is and we have very few events."

The IOC has said its decision to exclude the sport from the 2010 Olympics is based on "technical merit" and isn't discriminatory.

Two years ago, the IOC voted not to allow women's ski jumping into the 2010 Games, saying the sport has not developed enough and that it didn't meet  basic criteria for inclusion.

To be considered for inclusion in an Olympic Games, it's believed a sport must have held at least two world championships. The first women's ski-jumping world championships will be held next year in Liberec, Czech Republic.

However, Van and Women Ski Jumping USA president Deedee Corradini contend that requirement was taken out of the Olympic charter last year.

The women have said if Olympic organizers don't add a women's ski jump to the 2010 Games, they want an injunction to block VANOC from staging a men's event.

Van, though, said that would be a last-ditch effort and doesn't expect things to escalate to that level.

"I don't think that our most traditional sport in the Olympics would ever exclude men because women weren't allowed [to compete]," Van told Newsworld, adding the group has the support of male ski jumpers.

"I don't want to go another four years waiting, waiting and waiting [for women's ski jumping to become an Olympic sport]. I'm 23 now, which may not seem old, but I'm trying to be a [exercise science] student [at the University of Utah] and have a career. It's hard to continue with [a sport] that [seemingly] has no future."

Keck, 32, is retired from competitive ski jumping but made the trip to Vancouver to support the cause.

"Growing up, I always thought I would have to make the men's [Olympic] team and that was always my goal," she said. "That goal changed as I got older and realized why women's ski jumping truly had to become a sport."

Now the director of development for Women Ski Jumping USA, Keck remembered attending the first international women's demonstration event in 1995 in Thunder Bay, Ont.

"When I looked at these women at the top of the jump," Keck said, "they finally had a chance to compete against themselves and that is all we want to do [in Vancouver]. We want the right to compete. We want to compete at the highest level that the sport has to offer and right now that's only a Continental Cup.

"These little girls I'm working with in the U.S., they don't understand why they can't grow up to be in the Olympics and that's a very tough question to answer if you're the parent of that child. I don't believe they should be asking that question in this day and age.

"Women have been ski jumping since the late 1890s. The fact is, this isn't a new sport we're trying to get in the Olympics."

American Jessica Jerome and retired Canadian jumper Marie-Pierre Morin, who competed for the U.S. in her last season in 1999 because of dual citizenship issues, were also in attendance Thursday.

Jerome, a four-time U.S. national champion, is training six days a week in hopes of getting an opportunity to compete in Vancouver.

"If I don't stand up for what I truly believe in, I feel like nothing will change," said the 21-year-old Jerome, who is ranked seventh in the world. "Over the years, I have seen many talented young women quit because there was no higher level [than Continental Cup], nothing to strive for, nothing pushing them. It's unfortunate.

"I would like to be able to compete at an Olympic Games. However, I want to see the girls in the next generations to never have to deal with this struggle. I want to see them given equal opportunity."

Ross Clark, the lead lawyer for the ski jumpers, told reporters in Vancouver that gender equity is part of the Olympic charter and he plans to bring that to the court's attention.

"We are going to the court [to] put forward the argument that you have to, as a matter of Canadian law, have gender equity in this sport like you do in other [Olympic] sports," he said.

Corradini added the nine ski jumpers would not give up, saying they're only asking for one event to be held in Vancouver on a normal hill, compared to three events for the men: normal hill, large hill and team event.

"Wouldn't it be phenomenal for both Vancouver and the IOC to be able to say in 2010, 'we have just made history, we have the first totally gender equal Olympic Games in history,'" said Corradini.

With files from the Associated Press