Sochi Profile: Women’s Ski Jumping

Women’s Ski Jumping: A Long and Winding Road to Sochi 2014

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It’s been a long wait, but female ski jumpers will have the chance to compete for gold, silver and bronze at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, 90 years after their male counterparts jumped at the first ever Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix, France, in 1924. Ski jumping (and the related sport of Nordic Combined, which includes ski jumping) was the last remaining Olympic event open to one gender and not the other.

When asked what this means to Canada’s female ski jumpers, Curtis Lyon, interim Chair and  High Performance Director with Ski Jumping Canada quickly replies that “It’s absolutely everything for them.”

Taylor Henrich, an 18-year old ski jumper from Calgary, concurs, saying she is “euphoric” about representing her country at the Olympics. Though she has competed internationally since she was 12, drawn by the adrenaline rush of flying 100 meters downhill, she never expected to have such an opportunity. “In Canada, we’ve always trained in relative obscurity, relying on our parents, coaches, a few sponsors and a group of dedicated volunteers to support us,” she explains.

Lyon acknowledges that the road to Sochi has been a long one for the women. He says there were as many women as men jumping when he competed in the 1990s and they started campaigning for the right to participate in the Olympics in 1998 in Nagano.

But the analogy about the chicken and the egg and which one comes first is a fitting one to describe the dilemma of female ski jumpers. Elite competition attracts funding, which in turn helps improve training programs and skill levels among athletes. The women hadn’t been afforded these opportunities. In 2006, when it came time for the IOC to consider which sports would be part of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, women had only been competing in the Continental Cup for two years, essentially a “B” circuit, says Lyon. They’d yet to go to their first world championship, which finally happened in 2009. A women’s team event was subsequently added in 2011 and the sport was announced as an Olympic event that same year.

Lyon says that the second the women were officially included in the Olympics, it opened up a lot of funding opportunities including Own the Podium, Sport Canada and corporate sponsorship. The Canadian team has gotten a lot stronger since, and with a legitimate chance at medals, the athletes can better attract individual sponsorship too.

“All three women jumping for Canada in Sochi have a legitimate chance of making the podium,” says Lyon. “It’s been a long wait, but it’s going to be very exciting to see women at the Olympics. It’s fantastic for them and for the sport.” Taylor Henrich is part of the sport’s future, too young to been involved in the struggle for Olympic inclusion. “I’m grateful to all the women before me who fought for this,” she says. “I feel really fortunate to be part of the first group of women ski jumpers to compete on the Olympic stage and to represent my country. It doesn’t get any better than that!”