17 February 2010

When women threaten to beat men at the Olympics

    Lindsey Van(left), the world's greatest ski jumper, can't take part in the Olympics because she's a woman

"Lindsey Van holds the record — among both men and women — for the longest jump off of Whistler, B.C.'s normal ski jump, built for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics," And yet, women's ski jumping remains excluded from the Olympics. Even though the IOC says women's ski jumping doesn't meet criteria for inclusion, such as the number of countries who would offer competitiors, reality belies their contentions. There are fewer women's bobsleigh teams and women's ski cross is a sport even less developed than women's ski jumping.

So why keep women ski jumpers excluded? Could it be that despite ski jumping being a macho sport, women being smaller and light often means they can fly higher and further?

Of course, by bringing case after to the British Columbia courts over the last two years, women ski jumpers haven't helped themselves in the eyes of some. Take this tidbit from an article in Time magazine 

So will the IOC approve women's ski jump for 2014? "We'll have to wait and see," IOC member Dick Pound said in an interview for an MSNBC.com documentary on women's ski jumping, Frozen Out of the Olympics. "If in the meantime you're making all kinds of allegations about the IOC and how it's discriminating on the basis of gender," he warned, "the IOC may say, 'Oh yeah, I remember them. They're the ones that embarrassed us and caused us a lot of trouble of trouble in Vancouver, maybe they should wait another four years or eight years.'"

Basically, girls, shut up, sit pretty and wait men to decide your fate.

Granted there is no great male conspiracy to hold women ski jumpers back. Yesterday, monitoring Twitter whilst watching snowboard cross, all I could see were men and women who were dazzled by the skiers battling fog and a very tough track. I'm not aware of sports call-in shows or website where men go to voice their outrage at women's ski jumping. But opposition has sprung where it most counts. The IOC's narrow mindedness and dodgy dealings has proved wide reaching over the decades. From corruption to resistance on drug testing, every step forward the IOC toward progress has been hard won. Of course, sometimes the IOC is no more reactionary than society at large and the IOC is not wholly responsible  for questionable issues having been raised around women athletes.

Take women's hockey. The media has been positively rabid over women's hockey being a "two-horse race". American and Canadian hockey players are faring too well against other teams and the North American players have been "on the defensive". 

The media seems to have forgotten a one horse race, the Dream Team, when NBA players were first allowed to join the Olympics. I have never ever seen men being asked to apologise for being too good. Some critics are even demanding that women's hockey be withdrawn as an Olympics discipline. One wonders why such drastic steps are being taken to keep woman out (ski) and why there are appeals (hockey) to exclude them.

Perhaps the best female athletes are just too formidable. It's not too surprising to learn that with sports like curling and volleyball, women are as good as men. The next logical step is to ask why there are no mixed volleyball and curling teams at the Olympics. One guesses that as long as women and men are segregated, women's ability to overpower men in games that rely on points rather than comparable data is no threat. 

With sky jumping, the situation is different. Imagine a sport's page results grid in a newspaper, a sport book or website with ski jumping results side by side and numbers showing that women are unequivocally better than men. That would be something new in the history of humanity, would it not?

Women's ski jumping isn't an easily dismissed anomaly. This is happening at a time in our history when physical dominance is the very last bastion of male superiority in our society. It's not a pedestal that will relinquished easily. And though ski jumping would be a small concession and one unlikely to have profound social consequences, we live in world largely ignorant of female physical strength. Why is it such a well-guarded secret that women are just as good as men, if not better, at ultramarathons and very long distance swimming? All our lives, we've been told that men are stronger than women. Isn't it big news when this accepted tenet turns out not to be entirely true?  

And when will those sports gain mainstream appeal and become Olympics sports? 

In the murky swamp of consumerism and scandals, it's difficult to know what the IOC and their really games stand for. If, however, human excellence is at the centre of Olympian values, there should be a push to include women everywhere and in some circumstances, allow them to compete against men. 

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