Women's ski jumping closer to Olympic menu

The International Ski Federation, or FIS, voted Friday to add a women's ski jumping event to the 2009 world championships in Liberec, Czech Republic. It's a major step in having the sport included in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Competing at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games may not be just a pipe dream for Canadian women's ski jumpers Katie Willis and Atsuko Tanaka.

The International Ski Federation, known asFIS, voted Friday to add a women's individual event to the 2009 world championships in Liberec, Czech Republic. World championships are required before a sport can achieve Olympic status.

Canada, Norway and the United States — three of the leading nations in women's ski jumping — joined forces in making the proposal to FIS, which made the decision at a congress meeting in Vilamoura, Portugal.

"This has been an historic day for the women ski jumpers in Canada and worldwide," Brent Morrice, the chairman of Ski Jumping Canada, said in a statement. "We are taking the lead in moving something that needs to move forward and the Canadian sports system continues to show leadership in gender equality."

To actually get on the Olympic menu for 2010,the sport must be accepted by the local organizing committee — Vancouver has already given its support —and be approved by the International Olympic Committee at a meeting in July 2007 in Guatemala.

Willis, 15, and Tanaka, 14, are both members of the Canadian national team program and both won gold medals on the Continental Cup circuit — the highest level of female jumping — last season.

One step closer to official recognition

Having a world championship is the latest step in establishing women's ski jumping as a recognized sport.

The Continental Cup series was established in 2004, thanks to the efforts of Canada, Norway and Germany, and the first women's event at the FIS world junior nordic ski championships was held in 2006 in Kranj, Slovenia.

Aside from the technical obstacles, there are still traditional hurdles to overcome.

"Canada is one of the few nations that includes females within their national team," Ron Read, high performance director of Ski Jumping Canada, told CBC Sports Online in February.

"Female jumpers face a difficult and challenging road in establishing their sport," he added. "Many of the traditional ski jumping nations are not in favour of having the ladies jumping, they do not believe they are competitive enough."

Women's bobsleigh encountered a similar stumbling block before it was accepted as part of the Olympic menu for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

The only Olympic winter sports without competition for women are ski jumping and nordic combined, which features ski jumping and cross-country skiing.

With files from the Associated Press