It could have been so beautiful but the third day of ski jumping at the Winter Olympics will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. For the first time, men and women jumped off the hill in the mixed competition and fought for medals as a team. Instead, the sport became a farce with five disqualifications.
Status Pro in Ski Jumping
Ski jumping is a sport in which women have had to fight for their rights for a long time. Even today, there is still a large gap in equality between men and women. Females have fewer competitions and are paid comparatively less.
They have competed in ski jumping at the Olympic Games since 2014, while the men have been winning medals for decades. Beijing is the first Games men and women could jump together, giving the women two chances to win a medal and the men four.
Two women and two men compete together as a team for their respective countries. Each of the four athletes jumps once in the first round. Scores are based on the combined distance of every jump. The eight best teams move on to the second round, and there each of the athletes jumps once more. In the end, the team with the highest score from both rounds wins.
The introduction of the competition was an essential step towards gender equality in ski jumping. “We were so happy to have a second competition here at the Olympics,” reports German ski jumper Katharina Althaus.
First Olympic mixed competition turns into a big disappointment
Three women ski jumpers were disqualified after their jump in the first round. The first was Japan’s Sara Takanashi, who cried bitterly when she heard the news. A short time later, Austria’s Daniela Iraschko-Stolz was disqualified.
At every event there is at least one “material controller” who closely inspects the competitors clothing and equipment. Their suit is too big it can provide an advantage in ski jumping because it offers the athlete a larger air cushion under the jumper, leading to a greater distance.
During the inspection, the judges decided the suit did not fit the athletes. Hip bands that were not tight enough or there was too big a gap at the thigh led to disqualification. The disqualified athlete’s jump was removed from the team score.
Shortly before the end of the first round, the third disqualification of German, Katharina Althaus was announced. Two days earlier, she had won silver in the women’s competition with the same equipment. Althaus has been jumping for eleven years and has never been disqualified.
The German team was one of the favourites because they had won the mixed competition in 2019 and 2021 at the Nordic World Ski Championships. The disqualification was a bitter disappointment. They finished ninth in the first round and exited.
Norway another favourite reached the second round. But there, both the Norwegian jumper Silje Opseth and Anna Odine Stroem were disqualified. This meant that even they, as the big favourites, did not win a medal.
“Nobody takes that risk. I’ll put my hand in the fire on that.”
Some sports fans may conclude that this is a sport where athletes try to cheat, but this is not the case.
As is in many other sports, they try to achieve the best possible performance with the best equipment. According to Horst Hüttel, the sports director for ski jumping and Nordic combined in Germany: “There was no cheating. The girls are not stupid. We know that it is controlled. We know that this is the biggest showcase the girls have. Nobody takes that risk. I’ll put my hand in the fire on that”.
This young sport wanted to present itself to a broad audience at the Olympics and promote more recognition, but instead, they are a laughingstock. Mario Stecher, sports director of the Austrian Ski Federation, says that damaged their image.
“Ski jumping is experiencing one of its darkest days today”
The officials decided to tighten the rules without informing the athletes. Clas Brede Brathen, head of the Norwegian ski jumping team, says: “We should clean up before the Olympic Games. Ski jumping is experiencing one of its darkest days today”.
On the day of the competition, there were some discrepancies with the official lists and the disqualifications were only announced with a delay. In general, it seemed disorganised and lacking transparency.
“But rules are rules for everyone”
Baczkowska, the materials tester, faced particular criticism after the failed competition. She commented on Norwegian television: “It’s not a pleasant situation, and I’m very sorry for all the athletes who were disqualified. But rules are rules for everyone”.
Former material controller Joseph Gratzer said: “Our premise has always been material control must never be completely in the foreground in a competition. It is a marginal aspect that guarantees fairness and equal opportunities”.
But if something positive can be taken away from this situation, it has brought the men and women in ski jumping closer together. Both camps have publicly expressed their incomprehension about the disqualifications, like the Norwegian ski jumper Robert Johansson: “I hope this never happens to anyone again. This is completely crazy”.
The Winter Olympics are now a good three weeks over and women’s ski jumping is slowly recovering from the embarrassment. Instead of a significant leap forward on the road to equality in ski jumping, the sport has had a massive crash landing. It remains to be seen how quickly this young sport can recover from this.