In the only Olympic sport not open to women, Tara Geraghty-Moats perseveres


Editor’s Note: There’s only one Olympic sport not open to women: nordic combined. In December, American Tara Geraghty-Moats won the inaugural women’s nordic combined World Cup. On Saturday, Geraghty-Moats is expected to be the favorite as women’s nordic combined makes its world championship debut at the 2021 World Nordic Skiing Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany (LIVE on Peacock; Ski Jumping: 4am ET, Cross-Country Skiing: 9:30am ET, also airing on Olympic Channel 9pm ET). A version of this story was published on December 17, 2020. 

A brief history of women at the Olympic Games

When the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896, 241 athletes – all of them men – traveled in Athens to compete in 43 events. It was only four years later that the first women’s events were held; 22 women competed at the 1900 Paris Games in two events: tennis and golf.

In the 116 years since women first competed at the Games, the Olympic program has shifted and evolved to include more sports, though men’s events were almost always added before the corresponding women’s competition. Men’s gymnastics is one of the five original Olympic sports, while women’s gymnastics debuted in 1928. Men’s soccer was first played at the 1900 Games, but 96 years would pass before female soccer players first walked onto the Olympic pitch. Men’s boxers threw their first punches in 1904; 108 years later, women finally entered the Olympic ring. Thanks to the addition of women’s boxing, the 2012 London Olympics marked the first summer Games in which women competed in all of the same sports as men.

But these days, there is still one Olympic sport that is open to men, but not women: nordic combined, a winter sport that includes both ski jumping and cross-country skiing. It is one of six sports that has been contested at every Winter Olympics in history.

For most of the last 96 years, women’s nordic combined wasn’t part of the Olympic conversation because women’s ski jumping wasn’t part of the conversation. So when women’s ski jumping was added to the Olympic program for the 2014 Sochi Games, the path for women’s nordic combined finally seemed clear.

In the years since, women’s nordic combined has made notable progress. In October 2017, the U.S. held its first ever women’s nordic combined national championships, with Nina Lussi claiming the top spot on the podium. In 2018, FIS (the sport’s international governing body) introduced a women’s Continental Cup (a step below the World Cup). Last year, the 2020 Youth Olympic Games featured a women’s event. And in December, American Tara Geraghty-Moats won the first women’s nordic combined World Cup.

On Saturday, women’s nordic combined takes another big step forward with its first appearance on the world championship program.

Finding nordic combined

Geraghty-Moats was raised in West Fairlee, Vermont, a town of 600 that is just over the New Hampshire border. She grew up in an athletic family; her mom was a mountain biker and runner, while her dad was an alpine ski racer.

“I did pretty much all the outdoor sports I could,” she explains. Even still, “From a very early age, I wanted to do nordic combined.”

Because there was no nordic combined development pipeline for women, Geraghty-Moats originally focused on ski jumping. But after sustaining a knee injury at age 16, she decided to pursue biathlon instead. She was a member of the U.S. junior national team from 2011-14, at which point she returned to the ski jumping hill.

“Throughout my athletic career, I tried to take the opportunities open to me and make the most of them,” she explains. “But [nordic combined] was always in the back of my mind.”

When equal isn’t equitable

As Geraghty-Moats has progressed in nordic combined, she has dealt with her fair share of road blocks.

“Sexism in sports is endemic,” she explains. “I think it’s going to take all of us acknowledging that and taking steps against it in every single sport. It’s not an issue just in nordic combined. It affects pretty much every female athlete who competes at a high level.”

Some of the challenges she faced were easy enough to identify.

In 2016, she says she signed up to compete – and even paid the entry fee – for the U.S. national championships. The only problem? There was no women’s event. “I would have been perfectly happy to race in the men’s category or be the only person in my category, but I was just flatly told that there was no point,” she recalls. “Eventually they told me that I could race without a bib and not get a time.”

Other challenges were less blatant, but still systemic, a result of the sport’s male-only history.

At the conclusion of the 2020 season, Geraghty-Moats had competed in 18 Continental Cup competitions in her career, finishing on the podium 17 times (including 15 wins).

In the lead-up to the 2020-21 season, USA Nordic laid out its U.S. national team selection criteria, just as it always does. On paper, the criteria for the A-team was fairly standard: win an Olympic or world championship medal, or tally up enough strong results on the World Cup circuit.

But for Geraghty-Moats, A-team status and the funding that comes with it was – quite literally – unattainable.

“I didn’t have a World Cup last year. Even though I was ranked best in the world for two years in the world, there was no way that I could qualify for the A-team.”

Thanks to input from Geraghty-Moats and other athletes, USA Nordic revised its selection criteria so that athletes who finish in the top three of the Continental Cup rankings can also earn a spot on the A-team, thus allowing Geraghty-Moats to receive A-team funding for the first time in her career.

Jed Hinkley, who is currently in his first year as USA Nordic’s Sport Development Director, says the change helped address a situation in which equal treatment wasn’t leading to an equitable result, and praised Geraghty-Moats for her advocacy.

While Geraghty-Moats says she is thankful for the support of her national governing body, other financial challenges remain.

According to FIS guidelines, the winner of the inaugural women’s World Cup received 2800 CHF (approx. $3164 USD), while the winner of comparable men’s competition earned 8000 CHF ($9040 USD). This disparity is then compounded by number of competitive opportunities. When the original 2020-21 World Cup calendar was released, it included 31 events for men and five for women. While both the men’s and women’s schedules have, understandably, seen changes as a result of COVID-19, so far this season, men competed in 14 World Cup events while women had just the one.

While sponsors could help make up the difference, those aren’t exactly easy to come by when your sport isn’t contested on the world’s biggest stage.

“It is pretty tough to find sponsors and find financial support because it’s not an Olympic event,” Geraghty-Moats explains. “What really big corporations are looking for is that Olympic emblem.”

Geraghty-Moats has a clear legacy amid an uncertain future

In the last year, athletes across all sports dealt with uncertain competition schedules and postponed events. For Geraghty-Moats, this has long been the norm.

“I’ve wanted to compete internationally in nordic combined since I was about 11 years old. And now I’m 26. And [my sport] isn’t in the Olympics, and I don’t know when it will be in the Olympics.”

Originally, the 2022 Beijing Olympics seemed a likely target, but when the official program was revealed, there was no women’s event. “Nordic combined, and women’s in particular, still need to be developed further in terms of universality [the number of countries with Olympic-level athletes], in terms of the level of the athletes,”  IOC sports director Kit McConnell said in 2018.

Now, the 2026 Milan-Cortina Games are the goal, but Geraghty-Moats is well aware of what that timeline might mean for her.

“I think there’s a real possibility that I may be able to compete in the 2026 Games, or maybe even the 2030 Games, but not necessarily be at my prime. And I think I will enjoy it just as much,” she says. “I try to focus on the fact that my legacy in nordic combined will have made winter sports more equitable, and hopefully a better place.”

How to watch Geraghty-Moats compete at the 2021 World Championships

Saturday, March 27, 2021: LIVE on Peacock; Ski Jumping: 4am ET, Cross-Country Skiing: 9:30am ET (Also airing on Olympic Channel 9pm ET)

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Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.