Commentary

Female ski jumpers left out in the cold

Updated: February 14, 2010, 9:46 AM ET
By David Amber | ESPN

Higher. Stronger. Faster. To win at the Olympics these are the prerequisites. Oh yeah, one more thing: If you're a ski jumper, females need not apply.

At the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, once again women ski jumpers have been shut out of fulfilling their Olympic dreams. In December, after an 18-month legal battle where 15 female jumpers file a discrimination lawsuit against the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), it became official: Women ski jumpers again would be excluded from the Games.

Ski jumping has been an Olympic event for men since the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924 in Chamonix, France. For the past decade, a contingent of elite women jumpers have been fighting for inclusion, arguing that the IOC's Olympic charter mission statement which reads, in part, "to encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women," guarantees their rightful place at the Olympics.

[+] EnlargeLindsey Van
AP Photo/Matthias SchraderLindsey Van, a ski jumper, will not be competing at the Vancouver Olympics.

The IOC contends that women's ski jumping doesn't have a broad enough global appeal and lacks sufficient international participation to merit inclusion at the Olympics. We asked Alan Johnson, director and coach for the men's project X U.S. Ski Jumping team, for his take on what has become a hot-button topic at these Winter Games. Here are the questions and his answers:

What is the justification for not allowing women ski jumpers to compete at the Olympics?

The IOC says it has to do with lack of competitiveness, but the numbers don't add up. If you compare women's ski cross to women's ski jumping, it looks like this: This season [2009-10] there are eight ski cross International Ski Federation (FIS) events, with an average of 18 competitors representing seven different nations; there are 12 ski jumping FIS events with an average of 45 competitors representing 12 nations. So you must ask yourself, if the IOC denied ladies ski jumping based on lack of numbers and development of the sport on the same day they invited in ladies ski cross, how can this be justified when skier cross is far less developed than ski jumping? It's not even close.

What is the biggest difference between men's and women's ski jumping?

From a technical standpoint, nothing is different. They both use the same techniques as far as actual jumping and training goes. From a physical standpoint, men are stronger and more powerful, thus they can reach the optimal length jump with a lower in-run speed. Additionally, women's physiques are such that their in-run speeds will naturally be lower from the same starting point. What does it all mean? In order for a woman to jump to the same length as a man, she will need to start approximately 7-9 gates higher in the in-run.

In 2005 Gian-Franco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation, said ski jumping is detrimental to a women's reproductive system. Are there inherent physical dangers for women ski jumpers specifically?

No, dangers for men and women are the same. Statistically, ski jumping is far safer than alpine skiing. There are no physical attributes that make it more dangerous for a woman than a man.

In May 2009, the U.S. Ski Federation stopped funding the women ski jumpers. How does the sponsorship for men compare to women in the sport?

Presently, there are approximately five or six women jumpers who have sponsors and make money above and beyond their national program support -- for example, equipment, room, board, travel, etc. Are there sponsors who support men and not women?

Naturally, there are. Hundreds of men jumpers earn money from sponsorship deals. Clearly, if women were included at the Olympics, there would be additional avenues to earn sponsorship money for them, too.

Is women's ski jumping a viable sport outside the sphere of Olympic competition?

Since it is completely outside the realm of Olympic competition and is comparatively more successful than a number of other women's sports inside the Olympic realm, the answer would have to be yes. Women's ski jumping is significantly more developed than women's luge, bobsled and skeleton. Again, the numbers provided by the individual sport federations show that more women from more nations compete in ski jumping, yet these other sports have been admitted to the Olympics.

David Amber is a reporter for "Outside the Lines" and "SportsCenter," and can be reached at david.c.amber@espn.com.