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Women's ski jumping gets FIS go-ahead

Olympic hopeful aims for 2009 worlds

In the Olympic Winter Sports program there is a men’s and a women’s category for every sport, with the exception of ski jumping and Nordic combined (which has a ski jump component).

Thanks to steps taken by the Federation Internationale de Ski (FIS) at their most recent congress in Portugal, there may not be any exceptions when Vancouver and Whistler host the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

The FIS accepted ladies ski jumping into the program of the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, and, with the approval of the organizers in the Czech Republic, the sport will debut in 2009.

The FIS Congress also voted to send a proposal to the International Olympic Committee to include women’s ski jumping in the 2010 Games.

According to Brent Morrice, the chairman of Ski Jumping Canada, the inclusion of women in the world championships is a good thing. Including the sport in the Olympics would be even better.

"Last season we had two gold medalists, a gold in Park City and one in Germany," he said, referring to Katie Willis and Atsuko Tanaka. Together with Nata DeLeeuw, three Canadians are ranked in the top-30 internationally.

"We’re right up there with the best, and that was the highest level of female ski jumping in the world," added Morrice. "It really bodes well for our program and Canada by giving us a chance to win medals on those hills in 2010."

While inclusion in the Olympics is not a forgone conclusion, Morrice says the IOC has a mandate to provide gender equality in sports.

"The toughest step was getting this through the FIS," he said. "The next step is the IOC, and there are indications that they are open to this kind of thing. Now that it’s in the world championships there’s really no reason to say no.

"It’s the same facility, the same officials, same judges, same volunteers – it’s just a matter of running a women’s event."

According to Morrice, women from seven of 14 participating nations won gold medals in Continental Cup ski jumping contests over the past season, suggesting that there is more parity in the sport that in sports like hockey, where Canada and the U.S. are typically on top.

One of the reasons for that parity, and for the strength of the national team, is the fact that it’s a relatively new sport and all countries are starting at the same place. Ski Jumping Canada has had a women’s program for just seven years now, starting with some younger girls from the Calgary area that now make up the core of the national team.

"With men’s ski jumping, it’s so entrenched in (European) society there that it’s hard to make inroads. Here we’re starting off at the same level as any other country in the world," said Morrice.

The women compete on the 90-metre or "normal" hill, which is also used in Nordic Combined. With the FIS now open to female ski jumping, Morrice says it won’t be long before women are competing in Nordic Combined as well.

That’s the goal, he says.

"When that happens there will be gender equality in every event in the Winter Olympics."

Another announcement from the FIS Congress that was positive for Ski Jumping Canada was the decision to push back the age for competitors in the world junior championships, to 20 from 18. Since Canada is a young team – most athletes are still in high school – that gives the Canadian athletes a few more years of international competition and opportunities to earn spots on the World Cup circuit.