Hendrickson’s journey just the beginning for women’s Olympic equality


U.S. ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson has gone through so much just to be here.

Two torn ACLs and a torn MCL for starters. That was the easy part.

Hendrickson, and all female ski jumpers, had to go through an extensive legal battle 94 years in the making just to have the right to compete in Olympic ski jumping. 

Until 2014, ski jumping was a men’s-only event. Nordic combined still is.

“I don’t know. It was all men who made the decision,” International Olympic Committee Vice President Anita DeFrantz said. “And sadly, that continues in some sports. And it’s just time for them, if not the women in the sport, to say ‘OK, time’s up. We can do this.'”

As it turned out, Hendrickson was the woman to break that barrier, jumping first in the Sochi Olympics.

“We got all the excuses, but finally we were able to get it in,” Hendrickson told TODAY’s Willie Geist.  “A lot of my older teammates, I am thankful for how they fought. We don’t really know the exact answer, but we’re glad that we have our foot in the door now.”

But that was just one event. There’s still much more work to be done before there is true equality in the Nordic events.

If you’ve checked out the Olympic ski jumping and Nordic combined schedule — you can do so here — chances are you didn’t see many women’s events on the docket.

In fact, you would’ve seen just one — the individual normal hill, which gets underway Monday at 7:50 a.m. ET.

What you would have seen is the men’s normal hill, the men’s large hill, the men’s team large hill … and on and on and on.

Of the four ski jumping events, women are allowed to compete in just one. And for the Nordic combined? Nada.


So what’s the deal?

Well, history for one.

“It was traditionally a male sports,” Hendrickson said. “Females were just not really allowed to do it and they were just told no, no, no.”

In 1896, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement claimed that “no matter how toughened a sportswoman may be, her organism is not cut out to sustain certain shocks.”

Of course, science has since proven de Coubertin wrong. But that doesn’t mean opinions have changed much.

In 2005, International Ski Federation president Gian Franco Kasper again argued against including women with an equally erroneous claim.

“Don’t forget, it’s like jumping down from, let’s say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view,” Kasper told NPR.

From there on, arguments were made that there weren’t enough women jumpers to field a full Olympic event.

If you build it, they will come.​

You name it, the women heard it. Excuse after excuse until 2008. That’s when now-retired U.S. ski jumper Lindsey Van and a group of women from five countries — including Hendrickson — sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the right to compete in the 2010 Olympics.

The lawsuit failed but public outcry forced the IOC’s hand and women were awarded one ski jumping event.

The disparity between the number of men’s events to women’s events in the two sports has caused quite a stir in PyeongChang.

“It’s unfortunate that it takes that much energy from so many people to do the right thing,” Van said. “It’s kind of like this slow process. But slow is better than none.”

“Sports belongs to all humanity,” DeFrantz, who has waged a decades-long effort to boost gender equality in the Olympics. “There’s no reason to exclude women from any sport.”

As Geist points out, “there has been a 35 percent increase in youth participation in ski jumping competiton in the last couple of years, driven primarily by young girls,” according to U.S.A. Nordic.

So what’s the excuse now?

To see more on Hendrickson’s personal journey to PyeongChang watch the full TODAY interview above.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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