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Amy Donaldson: The battle won by women ski jumpers was never just about sports

Published: Sunday, Dec. 29 2013 9:15 p.m. MST

Jessica Jerome waves to the crowd after her final jump as the men and women compete Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013 for spots on the US Olympic Ski Jumping Team during the olympic trials in Park City.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PARK CITY — All they ever wanted to be were athletes.

But when the International Olympic Committee barred them from competing simply because they were female, the women of U.S. ski jumping became reluctant activists.

Their desire to participate made them warriors in a battle they never really wanted to fight. Their dream of being Olympians forced them to be crusaders for equality and fairness.

Their reward was both simple and stunning.

Sunday afternoon, standing under a perfectly clear blue sky at the bottom of the ski jumps at the Utah Olympic Park surrounded by more than 5,000 cheering fans, the women could bask in the joy of their athletic skill.

Only one of them could stand on top of the podium, but they'd all won.

“(The fight) doesn’t make it any more important for me, but it definitely adds to the emotion surrounding it,” said Park City native Jessica Jerome, who won the first of four spots on the team that will represent the United States at the 2014 Olympic Games in February. “It’s amazing. I was always saying when we were doing all of that court stuff, and trying to be advocates for the sport, all I wanted to do was train.”

Jerome may have been the official winner of the first-ever Olympic Trials, but their efforts allow all of us to win.

That’s because their battle was never just about sports.

“It was about women’s rights and about human rights,” said U.S. Women’s Ski Jumping President and former Salt Lake City mayor Deedee Corradini. “That’s what our fight turned into.”

Tears filled her blue eyes as she talked about what it means to watch the women actually competing for a spot on the country’s first Olympic team.

“I’ve never been more excited,” she said, grinning. “It’s real. We’ve been waiting for this day for 12 years.”

It was a fight none of them ever quite understood. That’s likely because when IOC officials bothered to give reasons for barring women from competing in the games, the explanations were easily refuted, illogical or downright ridiculous.

The women simply loved their sport. They were talented and competitive, and as such, they dreamed of representing their country on the grandest stage sport offers: the Olympics.

But they were girls.

And girls were not allowed to compete in ski jumping at the Olympics.

So while Jerome and fellow team member Lindsey Van don’t exactly look like warriors, while they never asked to lead social change, the pair of Park City natives took up the fight. Their fight to be included in the Olympics became a fight for equal opportunities — regardless of the dream.

It was a painful battle that became especially ugly in late 2009 when 15 women sued VANOC, the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee and the IOC for violating their human rights by excluding them from the games simply because they were female. Van had just won the inaugural women’s ski jumping world championship, and she became the face of the sport — whether she wanted to or not.

The court sympathized with the women but said it had no authority to force the IOC to include women. The loss was devastating. Van left the sport for a year, unsure if she wanted to keep fighting to compete in a movement that clearly didn’t care if they were second-class citizens.

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