Lindsey Van, the best female ski jumper in the world, along with her high-flying cohorts, expected to be able to compete at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in British Columbia. FIS, competitive skiing and snowboarding's governing body, voted 114-1 in 2006 in favor of welcoming the ladies.
Not so fast. The International Olympic Committee said, "No."
Van, 24, of Park City, Utah, who won the first-ever women's World Championship in February in Liberec, Czech Republic, is furious.
"It's absolutely absurd, absolutely ridiculous," Van said. "It's 2009 and this is almost like a joke. I don't have words for it anymore, it's so beyond maddening."
Van and 14 other women jumpers filed a lawsuit against VANOC, the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games after, in their view, beating their heads against the stone wall of the IOC.
The basis for the suit? Canada has laws against gender discrimination, VANOC is a quasi-governmental organization, and $120 million in public funds have been spent on athletic facilities at the Vancouver Games.
The plaintiffs are top jumpers from Austria, Canada, Germany, Norway, Slovenia, and the United States.
The case is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada April 20.
Deedee Corradini, former mayor of Park City and current president of Women's Ski Jumping USA, said, "This has been a five-year battle, but these women are worth fighting for."
She summarized the struggle: "To get the women into the Olympics, we had to get them into the World Championships. In May 2006, we did accomplish that at the FIS meeting in Portugal. We were voted down by the Ski Jumping Committee of FIS for starters, but in the end FIS voted 114-1 to allow women into the World Championships and into Vancouver 2010 for one event - K90 (the 90-meter jump). We were told then that since FIS voted for it, and we were not asking for a new event, just the other half of a male event, that the IOC would rubber stamp it. In November 2006 the IOC voted us down."
This, Corradini said, despite stats that showed more women from more countries competed in ski jumping at the highest levels than five existing Olympic events that welcomed women competitors.
"Eighty-three women from 14 countries are jumping at the elite level," she said. "At the same (IOC) meeting, they voted to allow skier cross which had only 35 women from 11 nations competing at that level." Corradini listed luge, bobsleigh, skeleton and snowboard cross as the other events with fewer competitors from fewer countries than ski jumping, citing FIS statistics.
A lawyer filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which agreed the decision to not allow women jumpers was discriminatory, Corradini said.
"The Canadian government was to get the IOC to change its mind, but nothing ever happened," Corradini said.
The jumpers filed a lawsuit against VANOC last May, which they decided was their only viable target.
"In a nutshell, what the lawsuit says is, VANOC is a quasi-governmental organization because half its board is appointed by federal or provincial governments, and all venues are all built with $120 million in government money, federal or provincial, therefore VANOC is subject to the laws of Canada and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which prohibits discrimination," Corradini said. "We're feeling cautiously optimistic."
Cathy Priestner Allinger, VANOC's executive vice president for Sport and Games Operations, said, "This is a matter that is currently before the courts and understandably we can provide no new comment. As we have stated in the past, in advance of the IOC's decision not to include women's ski jumping for 2010, we supported the inclusion of women's ski jumping and communicated to the IOC that if they elected to add the event at that time, we would and could support it from a logistical and operational standpoint.
"We recognize that efforts are continuing by some to raise the profile and awareness of the issue; however, neither the facts nor our position have changed - it is not our decision to make. The final decision lies with the IOC, and we respect and accept the IOC's decision regarding women's ski jumping," Priestner Allinger said.