February 2, 2006
(AP by Janie McCauley)—For Lindsey Van, two national ski jumping titles will have to do. For Alissa Johnson, cheering on her 16-year-old brother in his Olympic jumping debut for the Americans in Turin will have to do.
Van and Johnson are among the female ski jumpers from around the world eagerly awaiting the day they, too, can be called Olympians and compete on the world's largest stage. If everything goes as hoped, that day will come in Vancouver in 2010.
"Our situation is very frustrating, said Van, a University of Utah student who has been jumping since she was 7. "We feel as if we are not recognized for the same work as the males do. It is harder for us on every front of the sport. Each day is a battle for us, to improve the sport, and to push it forward. We hope to be added as an Olympic event in 2010. We think if this happens much will follow.
``Four years is a long time, but the last four went fast. We have to look at it optimistically.''
Van won two titles at the U.S. Ski Jumping Championships last month in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Officials in the sport believe there's a realistic chance the women will be competing at the Olympics in four years, especially with how hard Women's Ski Jumping USA is campaigning.
"I think so, for sure, said U.S. Nordic director Luke Bodensteiner. "The organizers in Vancouver are starting to take a more proactive role in it. They have accepted in the last 18 months that it is growing at a rapid rate and has some high-quality athletes involved.
"Definitely we have enough girls taking part. They should be there. They deserve it. Their sport has grown to where it's worthy of Olympic competition.
Still, there are many steps that must be taken first.
A Continental Cup series for women jumpers was introduced in 2004, and last month was the inaugural ladies' ski jumping event at the International Ski Federation's (FIS) Junior Nordic World Ski Championships in Kranj, Slovenia.[pagebreak]"Following the experiences from these events, the FIS Ski Jumping Committee will evaluate the success of the events and review the next steps that are required to progress ladies' ski jumping, since there is still limited activity in many ski jumping nations, FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis said.
A proposal has been submitted to the 2006 FIS general assembly to add women's ski jumping as an event in the FIS World Ski Championships _ a necessary first step.
"The Olympic Winter Games is a different matter, since the decision to introduce new events to the Olympic program is taken by the IOC, Lewis said. "Prior to considering the inclusion of a new event, it has to be carried out at the world championship level several times as well as include active participation in a certain number of countries and continents.
Bobsledding became an Olympic sport for women at Salt Lake City four years ago, so that left jumping and Nordic combined _ an event featuring jumping and cross-country skiing _ as the only two Olympic winter sports without competitions for women.
Ultimately, it's up to the International Olympic Committee, which must determine if it sees enough interest in the sport from enough nations.
During a jumping training session last fall at Utah Olympic Park, U.S. Nordic combined coach Bard Elden greeted a women's jumping coach from his native Norway. This was their brief time to catch up, since the Norwegian coach knew he wouldn't be in Italy for the Olympics.
The women jumpers have an Olympic gold medalist in their corner. Nikki Stone, a two-time Olympian who is now a motivational speaker and Olympic advocate, won gold in aerial skiing in 1998 in Nagano _ the first year it was a medal sport.
She is on the women's ski jumping board in Park City, Utah, campaigning for these women to get their chance at the Olympic podium.
"Unfortunately, they are not able to work toward the same goals I could, Stone said. "I grew up a gymnast and my goal was to be in the Olympics since I was 5. Especially young girls, these dreams are really something you want to encourage.
Brenna Ellis, a 17-year-old resident of Park City, also began jumping young _ she was 6. Right now, she's at her sport's highest level. The U.S. women train six days a week, four of those on the jump and the other two lifting weights and doing plyometric exercises.[pagebreak]"Once I started competing internationally about three years ago, I realized how big this issue really was, Ellis said. "There are so many high-level women jumpers out there right now, and for this to not be in the Olympics is crazy. If there were Olympic Games for the women in 2010 it would help the younger girls have the ultimate goal, and not have to go through all of the controversy that we have gone through.
Johnson's father is former U.S. ski team coach Alan Johnson. Her brother, Anders, will be the youngest American man competing in Turin. She will be there to support him, though she wishes she were jumping, too.
"Unfortunately, there will not be a brother-sister duo for the Johnsons, she said.
Stone believes the FIS still is made up of a significant number of middle-aged males "stuck in their older ways.
"I almost feel it's a case where they're threatened by women becoming so powerful in their sport, Stone said, noting she has even heard some express concerns about women damaging their reproductive organs in a crash on the hill.
"There are enough women to have international competitions. Some go into the men's contests and do just as well.
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