Olympics: Opportunity denied

It looked like an incredible difficult sport to excel in. Tedious, in fact. There definitely was something alluring about the lift to the top, the walk up up the stairs, the poise at start and the satisfying “woosh” that sounded with the gain in speed and momentum before the athlete was launched in the air.

And then, safely on the ground at the bottom of the hill, they stripped down part of their gear, gathered up their things and started the long trek back up to the top of the hill to it all over again.

Two summers ago while visiting Lake Placid for triathlon training, I took a break and visited the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex (highlighted by the photos on this post). The bonus was the chance to see ski jumpers actually training. The scene was fascinating and inspiring. With a type of artificial turf surface, the athletes were able to practice jumps in the middle of the summer on one hill while a second hill was open to tourists, like myself, who wanted to glimpse a bit of the 1980 Olympic glory.

Another ski jump hill, smaller and shorter, was off to the side. That was were younger kids were learning to jump and perfect their technique. Hanging out at one of the lookout points, I struck up a short conversation with a coach. “Where do you find people to ski jump?” I asked. “Over there,” he pointed to the youth hill. “When they’re young. Before they have any fear.”

And no where in our conversation, no where among the athletes, youth or otherwise, was there any gender barrier.

Which is why it’s so frustrating to watch the International Olympic Committee deny opportunity.

In case you missed, despite heavy lobbying efforts and an already established world championship, women’s ski jumping is not on the agenda for the upcoming Vancouver Olympic Games. (You can read an excellent recap of the story by Ann Killion on SI.com here.)

The reasons? Aside from the archaic “it’s too dangerous” for women the IOC argued that there are not enough countries which sponsor ski jumping and not enough women who participate. The U.S. Women’s Ski Jumping team has numbers to refute that claim. And as Killion points out in her column, inclusion of a sport in the Olympics increases participation and hence the quality of competition. Just ask the world of women’s pole vaulting.

It’s a shame that we keep telling people what they can not do. Yes, there are financial considerations. But there have always been financial considerations. When you limit possibility, for anyone, you limit possibility for everyone. Because who knows what viewing the women’s Olympic ski competition may have meant to someone in front of their television at home?

The Olympics don’t just inspire more athletes (although inspiring athletes and fitness is an all-important goal in and of itself). We still love the Olympics because it allows us to dream in our own lives. There are stories that burst through our cynical 21st century nature and allow us to open up to possibility.

Denying an outlet to those intangibles in life — opportunity, possibility, aspiration — does a disservice to more than just those women who will not get the chance at an Olympic medal.

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~ by amymoritz on January 27, 2010.

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