Women’s ski jumping grabbed the headlines Tuesday at the Winter Olympics, although not for reasons the athletes might have liked after five women were disqualified from the new mixed team event.
Among them were Germany’s Katharina Althaus, a two-time Olympian who captured her second consecutive silver medal in the individual normal hill event just two days prior.
“I have no words for the decisions that were made today — our sport was damaged as a result,” wrote Althaus on Instagram after she, Japan’s Sara Takanashi, Austria’s Daniela Iraschko Stolz and Norway’s Silje Opseth and Anna Odine Stroem were disqualified for suit violations, wearing suits deemed to be too loose and thus capable of extra loft.
“We were so happy to have a second event (for women) here at the Olympics,” said Althaus, via German sports agency SID. “The FIS destroyed everything with this operation. I think they have destroyed women’s ski jumping. I don’t know what they’re trying to do.”
“It is just strange that they have been using the same suits yesterday and there was no problem,” said German coach Stefan Horngacher. “It is annoying that this happens at the Winter Olympic Games. This should all be cleared before.”
Norwegian ski jumping chief of sports Clas Brede Braathen emphasized the gravity of the situation, saying, “I am sorry on behalf of ski jumping. This is something we should have cleaned up in before the Olympics. The sport of ski jumping has experienced one of its darker days today.”
The addition of the mixed team event was supposed to be an advancement for women’s ski jumping. But at the 2022 Winter Games, the disparities between the men’s and women’s programs are still glaring.
The women’s competition had just 40 spots for the individual normal hill event compared to 65 for the men. Additionally, the men have an individual large hill competition and a men’s team event where 12 countries compete with four-man teams. Women compete on the large hill on the World Cup and at Nordic Skiing World Championships.
Althaus, who’s also the reigning world champion, had five podiums in nine World Cup starts heading into the Winter Games, and her silver medal over the weekend made her first woman to win two Olympic medals in ski jumping. Takanashi, the 2018 bronze medalist, finished fourth after arriving at the Olympics as the most successful women’s ski jumper in history, with 61 wins and 110 podium finishes overall in 167 World Cup starts.
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According to an NPR report Tuesday, Takanashi’s coach “said her suit was supposedly too big around the thighs, even though she wore it in the women’s normal hill event on Saturday. He added that the extreme dry weather may have affected her body’s moisture content.” Opseth reportedly told Norwegian media she also wore the same suit in the women’s competition, but what changed was the way it was measured.
The report, however, adds that FIS official Aga Baczkowska told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK that the equipment inspection followed the rules, noting that it’s the team’s responsibility to ensure all suits comply.
FIS guidelines, which were updated in November, state that “the jumping suit must in all places and parts be tight-fitting the athlete’s body.” The rules are meant to prevent “suit doping” – when ski jumpers try to become more aerodynamic by increasing the sag and permeability of their suits.
Ursa Bogataj earned Slovenia’s first-ever ski jumping Olympic gold on Saturday when she won the women’s individual title, and she teamed with 2022 women’s bronze medalist Nika Kriznar, Timi Zacj and Peter Prevc to claim the mixed team gold on Monday. Slovenia was the only team among the top five seeds to record eight legal jumps and won by more than 100 points, with Russian Olympic Committee taking silver and Canada winning bronze.
“Equipment is very important in sport and disqualifications happen,” said Abigail Strate, part of Canada’s bronze-medal squad. “It’s a very common thing to happen in ski jumping and the fact that it happened at the Olympics just goes to show that they were taking the rules pretty strictly and seriously because it is the absolute highest level of sport.”
Strate’s teammate, Alexandria Louititt expressed a similar sentiment after having been disqualified from the women’s individual competition for ski length. Austria’s Sophie Sorschag, however, was disqualified from the women’s event because of her suit.
“I had the same thing happen the other night when I was disqualified, so there’s no exceptions,” said Louititt.