'Skierinas' in the Olympics: Gender Justice and Gender Politics at the Local, National and International Level over the Challenge of Women's Ski Jumping

By Vertinsky, Patricia; Jette, Shannon et al. | Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

'Skierinas' in the Olympics: Gender Justice and Gender Politics at the Local, National and International Level over the Challenge of Women's Ski Jumping


Vertinsky, Patricia, Jette, Shannon, Hoffmann, Annette, Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies


Ski jumping is one of the last Olympic events to exclude women. The IOC says its 2006 decision not to include a women's ski jump event at the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympics Games in Vancouver/Whistler had nothing to do with gender discrimination. The ruling was based, it claims, on a lack of 'technical merit.' However, if one looks at the issue from an historical perspective, it becomes evident that gender discrimination is precisely the reason why women are not jumping at the Games. Barred from serious competition for decades because jumping was not deemed appropriate for females, women ski jumpers have not been able to establish the required paraphernalia around international level training and competition and gain the 'technical merit' required by a Eurocentric organization largely controlled by men. (1) The IOC's ruling, noted a Vancouver Sun editorial in 2008, was particularly galling given that it was the very organization that welcomed to competition Eddie (The Eagle) Edwards, the "affable short sighted overweight plasterer from Cheltenham who earned a last place finish for Great Britain at the 1988 Calgary Olympic Games in the men's ski jumping competition." (2) A comment posted on the Now Public blog recalls The Eagle's infamous Olympic experience:

   He was absolutely terrified each time he had to go down the chute.
   It was both heart breaking and hysterical to see the look on his
   face, coke-bottle glasses steamed up, teeth clenched, and body as
   rigid as a popsicle as he jumped, fervently hoping, he told us
   afterwards, he would survive the fall. (3)

Although sport historians have mostly neglected women's experience in skiing, (4) ski historian John Allen points out that the sport is instructive for studying changing cultural values and the relationship between modernity and tradition, given that traditional values around gender have lingered on, sometimes tenaciously clutched to, but rarely disregarded. (5) Ski jumping, in particular, offers an illuminating discourse in gender stereotypes and expectations since on the one hand, women have been prevented from taking part in ski jumping competitions until relatively recently while at the same time they have long demonstrated that they can participate at equal or better levels with men. (6) Furthermore, as Matti Goksoyr observes, the more recent inclusion of women into high level competition has led to a transformation of ski jumping from a male-dominated sport to one focused on weight, body shape, skill and technique. Given the decline in the number of male competitive ski jumpers, he points out that the inclusion of women may well be needed to revitalize the sport. On the other hand, the continued androcentrism

of the cultural order in ski jumping seems to work against this, contradicting the position of the IOC Medical Commission that "sport is for everyone. Girls and women should not be excluded from participation in athletic activity because of their gender" (7)

In their recent book, Playing with the Boys, McDonagh and Pappano remind us that 'sport'--a system which still privileges the male body as superior--does not reflect social and gender realities but rather plays a key role in constructing them. (8) In their view, a central problem with organized sport has been the way that sport-related policies--particularly those enforcing sex segregation--have codified historical myths about female physical inferiority, fostering a system which, while offering women more opportunities than ever before, has kept them from being perceived as equal athletes to men. This practice of 'coercive sex segregation' does not reflect actual sex differences in athletic ability, but instead constructs and enforces the false premise that males are inherently athletically superior to females. It has been built on three false assumptions (the three I's), all of which have their origins in nineteenth century beliefs about the female sporting body and women's proper role in society: i) female inferiority compared to males; ii) the need to protect females from injury in competition; and iii) the immorality of females who compete directly with males. …

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'Skierinas' in the Olympics: Gender Justice and Gender Politics at the Local, National and International Level over the Challenge of Women's Ski Jumping
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