The fight for equality in women’s ski jumping is not just about ski suits

Logan Sankey climbs the steep metal stairs to the top of the Olympic Ski Jump in Lake Placid, NY

Sankey zips up his suit, slides down the ramp and takes off, flies up the ramp and then floats in the air.

Along with his long skis and perfected technique, Sankey’s wetsuit plays a big role in his jumping. On this day in November, she wears a generic black and white costume.

“It’s not about how she looks, or it shouldn’t be about how she looks,” says Sankey, who is from Steamboat Springs, Colorado. “It’s about how we can use it to fly further.”

For years, every female ski jumper in the world had to have extra panels sewn around her hips. The International Ski Federation (FIS), which sets competition standards for the sport, said the extra hip panels were meant to better fit a woman’s body.

But Sarah Hendrickson never bought that explanation. Hendrickson is a two-time Olympic ski jumper from Park City, Utah.

“They were trying to find ways that accentuated our hips and curves a little more,” Hendrickson says.

Anders Johnson says it was also complicated to sew the extra panels. Johnson coaches the US women‘s ski jumping team and sews their costumes.

“From someone making the costume, it was just more parts,” Johnson says. “More pieces equals more sewing and that was just silly.

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Sarah Hendrickson reacts after a jump in 2017 in Park City, Utah. She is shown wearing hip panels, before the uniform rules change.

In its 2020 specifications, the FIS removed the extra hip panels on women’s suits and said the change made them easier to sew and modify. They now look much more like men’s suits.

The fight for equality goes beyond ski suits

Some female ski jumpers saw the move as progress, but Sankey says there are still big battles ahead for women in the sport.

“It’s not like the suit was changed and everyone was like, ‘Yes, equality in ski jumping!'” Sankey said.

“It’s like, okay, great, we have suits that are a bit more functional, but like, let’s make changes in these other areas as well.”

On the professional circuit, women win about 70-80% less prize money than men and there are fewer events and fewer chances to compete, both on the annual World Cup circuit and at the Olympics. .

Canadian ski jumper Abigail Strate is competing in Beijing for her first Olympics, which she is excited about, but she is also frustrated that there are only two ski jumping events where women can compete and four where men can compete. can compete.

“It’s so many more opportunities at an Olympic medal, it’s so many more opportunities to show off and show off as an athlete,” Strate said.

The women’s ski jumpers will compete for the gold medal in the final round of the individual event on Saturday, starting at 6:35 a.m. ET.

Ski jumping only became a women’s Olympic sport in 2014.

The International Ski Federation says the women’s side of the sport is still young. While men have ski jumped in the Olympics since the first Winter Games nearly a century ago, women were not allowed to compete until 2014.

Hendrickson landed that historic first women’s jump at the Sochi Games. She has now retired from the sport, but sits on the FIS Athletes’ Commission to lobby for opportunities for female ski jumpers.

“I sit on these board meetings that are 98% male and I just try to respectfully give my opinion on what’s going on and how the sport is progressing,” Hendrickson says.

Ski jumping has become more popular among women and young girls in recent years, but Hendrickson says growth is not a given. Some of the athletes are still working extra jobs to pay for their travel.

What she and others want now for women is equal pay, equal opportunities to compete. They say they deserved it.

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