There are winners, and there are champions. And today – the very first day that women ski jumpers have ever competed in the Olympics – seems like the perfect day to single out a champion.
“My goal is to make the Olympic team, for girls,” declared ski jumper Lindsey Van in a tv interview back in 1996. She was eleven. It would be 18 more years – until today, February 11, 2014 – that it took her dream to materialize.
Not just 18 years of training. But 18 years of – quite literally MAKING the team. As in creating it. Lobbying the Olympic Committee for it. Fighting for it in courts and in public. Willing it into being. And although Lindsey didn’t win the medal we were all hoping for her, those women who did, owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for her tireless fight on their behalf.
[Today’s winners were Carina Vogt of Germany; Daniel Iraschkostotz of Austria; Coline Mattel of France].
Not many of us probably even realized that women ski jumpers were excluded from Olympic competition by officials who considered the sport “too dangerous” for women. Even though the women were competing neck-in-neck with men in world championships since 2006, when the International Ski Federation allowed them in. And decades before that on slopes all over the world.
A 2011 documentary “Ready to Fly” by William Kerig, captures this struggle. It’s a brilliant film, one of the most moving stories I saw at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, where it won top awards.
In 2009, Lindsey won her Gold Medal at the World Ski Championships at Liberec, CZE and held the North American record for distance (106.5 meters, Whistler BC) until this year.
She was the favorite heading into the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but of course – there was no ski jumping for women in Vancouver. And there wouldn’t have been any women’s ski jumping today if Lindsey and her teammates hadn’t filed suit against the Olympic committee. It was a victory hard won. And bittersweet for Lindsey, whose best chance at gold was four years ago, not today at age 29.
But if anyone can claim victory, if anyone can be called “champion” for her sport and has cause to hold her head high when other women accept their medals, it’s this petite skier from Salt Lake City who fought to make today’s Olympic competition possible – when everyone told her to go away.