Women’s ski jumping still faces uphill battle ahead of third Olympics

U.S. ski jumper Anna Hoffman competes at the FIS Ski Jumping Women's World Cup Hinzenbach
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A new mixed team competition will expand opportunities for women ski jumpers to compete at the Winter Olympics, but eight years after the women’s event was added, athletes are still scratching their heads over the vast disparities that exist between the women’s and men’s programs.

“It’s eight years later; let’s step some stuff up and get some more equality,” American ski jumper Anna Hoffmann recently told the Wisconsin State Journal. “The women’s side of the sport has been showing that our level and our competitiveness is there. There are so many athletes that are super capable. There’s no reason to have discriminations between the two.”

Chief among those discrepancies is the 40 spots allowed for for the women’s individual normal hill event compared to 65 for the men’s. Additionally, the men have an individual large hill competition (another shot at gold for 65 men)despite the fact that women compete on the large hill on the World Cup and at Nordic Skiing World Championships. There’s also a men’s team event where 12 countries compete with four-man teams (and another 12 men take home Olympic medals).

The 21-year-old Hoffman personally felt the crunch of the numbers. She was originally sixth on the alternate list for Beijing but made it in after other countries passed on using some quota spots. After qualifying three women for both the 2014 and 2018 Games (the max quota is four), the U.S. did not initially qualify a single spot in the women’s ski jumping competition for 2022.

Norwegian jumper Silje Opseth, 22, said recently she was envious of the men getting to use “the big, beautiful hill” in Beijing, and on Thursday several  Norway team members shared their support.

“There is no doubt that they are ready for a large hill in the Olympic program,” said fellow jumper Halvor Egner Granerud, according to EuroSport.

Norway’s team manager Clas Brede Brathen pointed out that men and women competed on the same large hill at a World Cup in Willingen, Germany, just last weekend.

“It will be a difficult job for those who will argue against the girls jumping on all the slopes after what happened in Willingen,” he said. “There, the girls showed what many of us have said for a long time, that they will show it when they get the opportunity.”

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An NPR report on Thursday details other inequities women ski jumpers face, including taking home approximately 75-percent less prize money than men and a weird, now-defunct requirement that made women include additional hip panels in their ski suits. The International Ski Federation (FIS) had claimed the panels were for fit, but two-time U.S. Olympic ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson believes it was all aesthetic.

“They were trying to come up with ways that accentuated our hips and our curves a little bit more,” Hendrickson told NPR.

FIS removed the requirements in 2020, reportedly saying the change made it easier to sew and alter the suits.

There’s also the fact that women still don’t compete in Nordic combined, the only Olympic sport – summer or winter – that is only for men.

While Nordic combined is contested separately from ski jumping, given that Nordic combined includes both ski jumping and cross-country skiing, it was assumed that a women’s Nordic combined event would be added after women’s ski jumping debuted in 2014.

Originally, women’s nordic combined targeted the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, but when the official Olympic program was revealed, there was no women’s event.

“Nordic combined, and women’s in particular, still needs to be developed further in terms of universality [the number of countries with Olympic-caliber athletes], in terms of the level of the athletes,”  IOC sports director Kit McConnell said in 2018.

Who’s favored to win women’s ski jumping in Beijing?

There will not be a repeat gold medalist in women’s ski jumping after defending Olympic champion Maren Lundby opted out of competing this past season. The two-time world champion said she was not willing to “sacrifice everything” to meet the demands her sport required.

“Ski jumping is a sport with a lot of demands, weight is part of it,” she told Norway’s NRK TV in October. “My body has changed naturally lately and for this reason I don’t want to sacrifice everything to be at the best level in Beijing.”

Lundby has since sparked conversation regarding disordered eating in her sport, advocating for younger athletes “to not make stupid decisions and to suffer.”

Austria’s Sara Marita Kramer was considered a medal favorite heading into the Games, but she was forced to withdraw Wednesday after testing positive for COVID-19.

Japan’s Sara Takanashi arrives in Beijing as the most successful women’s ski jumper in history, having recorded 61 wins with 110 podium finishes overall in 167 World Cup starts. Yet, in two previous Olympic appearances, her best finish was bronze in PyeongChang, and in six world championships, her best was silver in 2013 and bronze in 2017 and 2021.

Slovenia’s Ursa Bogataj will make her second Olympic appearance after finishing 30th in 2018, but she’s riding the momentum of a podium-filled season after finishing second twice and third three times in nine World Cup starts.

Like Bogataj, Germany’s Katharina Althaus comes in with five podiums in nine World Cup starts. She’s also the defending Olympic silver medalist and reigning world champion. A podium in Beijing would make Althaus the first woman to win two Olympic medals in ski jumping.

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What’s the mixed team ski jumping event?

Twelve four-person teams – two men and two women – will compete in the inaugural mixed team event, which includes two scored rounds and is staged on the normal hill. Starting with the women, the genders alternate jumps until all four athletes on each team have competed. All four scores for each team are combined after the first round and the top eight teams advance to the final round.

Germany has won the mixed event in the last four world championships, with Austria finishing second in 2019 and third in 2021. Expect the Germans to be represented by Karl Geiger and Markus Eisenbichler, both of whom are ranked top six on the World Cup and were part of the last two world championship teams. Althaus is probably for one of the women’s spots with Pauline Hessler likely to fill the other.

The Austrians have some depth with Jan Hoerl, Stefan Kraft and Daniel Huber all having World Cup wins this year, while on the women’s side, they’ll choose from 2014 Olympic silver medalist Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, worlds medalists Eva Pinkelnig and Jacqueline Seifriedsberger.

With only one U.S. woman qualifying for Beijing in the individual event, Team USA is unable to part in the mixed team event.

2022 Winter Olympics: Women’s Ski Jumping, Mixed Team Schedule

Event  Date/Time (U.S. Eastern Time) Date/Time (Beijing, China)
Women’s Individual Normal Hill (First Round, Final) 2/5/22 5:45 AM 2/5/22 6:45 PM
Mixed Team Normal Hill (First Round, Final) 2/7/22 6:45 AM 2/7/22 7:45 PM

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On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi and the NBC Olympics Research team contributed to this report.