Women Need Not Apply

Abby Hughes, 16, jumps the 90-meter hill in Meinerzhagen, Germany, in 2005. Scott Sine/Park Record

By CBSNews.com's Christine Lagorio.


Growing up on the side of a mountain in ski-crazy Park City, Utah, didn't hurt: Lindsey Van says she couldn't help falling in love with ski jumping. Now Van is a 21-year-old University of Utah student with a passion – and an undeniable talent – for jumping off mountains at highway speeds.

Her coach, Casey Colby, trains Van almost every day. Colby estimates that Van has made 13,000 jumps off of Olympic-sized hills. All that work has paid off: Van is ranked second in the world in women's ski jumping.

But Van won't be jumping this month in the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. Nor will the three other American women who are ranked among the world's top 10 women's ski jumpers. Ski jumping is the only Olympic sport that doesn't allow women to compete.

Van's teammate, Alissa Johnson, comes from a ski family — her father is a coach and her 16-year-old brother is one of America's best ski jumpers and qualified for Olympic competition. She's ranked ninth in the world. Johnson tells CBS News.com that while she never felt entitled to go to the Olympics, she always wanted it to be an option.

"It hurts me to think that someday I won't have a medal I deserved, an Olympic run I deserved, or be in a world championship, just because I'm a woman," Johnson said.

Meet America's ski jumping women, in photos

The Olympic dream is shared among so many amateur athletes that it has become cliché. Van began dreaming hers at age 7. After making her first ski jump, Van told her mother that she wanted to jump in the 2002 Olympics. When 2002 rolled around and the Games were held in nearby Salt Lake City, Van did jump, but only as an exhibition, to warm up the crowd before the real competition – for men only.

Four years later, there is still no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for Van.

Nikki Stone, a seasoned freestyle aerials jumper, also embraced the Olympic dream as a child. But at 23, she realized it by competing in the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway. Four years later, she took the gold in Nagano, Japan. Her sport, which involves flipping and rotating while airborne on skis, is arguably more dangerous than ski jumping.

"To see these women not be able to realize their dreams is heartbreaking," Stone said. "I just can believe in this day and age that they wouldn't allow women to compete. They work just as hard as the men and they train just as hard as the men."

At the Park City club where Van and Johnson train, women and men do train together on a daily basis. Until a year ago, they competed against each other.

"When I first got started, everything that I did up at the jumps was the same as the guys," said Jessica Jerome, an 18-year-old national ski jumping champion on the 90-meter hill. "We coached the same, we had the same equipment, we were treated the same. It never really occurred to me that it wasn't an Olympic sport."

Game Of Numbers, Dollars And Stereotypes

In recent years, the International Olympic Committee has added a handful of winter sports to its roster, including snowboarding, skeleton, women's bobsled and snowboardcross. But women's ski jumping hasn't made the cut.

That isn't to say the IOC doesn't want it. Women ski jumpers will have an easier time getting the committee's approval — the tallest hurdle for most other sports seeking inclusion — than they will surmounting the steep issues of money and tradition that stand in their way.

Call it a tangle of bureaucracy — or just politics — but it is women's ski jumping's own oversight group that has yet to agree to officially make it into a world-class sport.

  • Christine Lagorio

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