WHEN IT COMES to Olympic people, it never hurts to plan ahead. It's what they do. They're so good at it, they could probably keep Franklin Covey in business all by themselves. This weekend, the planning continues. Top officials from the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation are in town, working on convincing Salt Lake Olympic officials that American women belong on the bobsled track when 2002 rolls around.
Reasons vary as to why American sledders haven't been included in the Olympics. In truth, it probably isn't a matter of sexual discrimination - at least not in recent years. More likely it has been a matter of, for one thing, money. The U.S. Olympic people only have so much cash to go around. There is also the concern about whether there are enough participants to justify funding. Last winter only five countries had women's bobsled teams. About 40 teams need to be sanctioned in order for the sport to be included in the Olympics.Then there's the awareness factor. What most Americans know about sledding comes from watching "Cool Runnings."
Although there has been a men's U.S. Olympic bobsled team in place since 1928, that isn't the case with the women. Somewhere along the Olympic trail, they fell off. Actually, they never got on. They have been hanging around for almost two decades - since the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid - hoping for the chance to participate in the Olympics. Now they're figuring with the 2002 Games coming to Salt Lake City, where better to start than right here at home?
American women's hopes depend on the mood of a whole group of acronyms. There's the USOC, which seems to favor having a women's entry. Then there's the SLOC, which bobsled officials are hoping to convince this weekend. Lastly, there's the final decision, which must be approved by the IOC. Naturally, the bobsled people are hoping to get their request approved ASAP.
The American women are basing their case on the fact that the sport is growing and they have shown well in international competition. Last year the U.S. won its first-ever medals in the Women's International Circuit competition at Bear Hollow, where they claimed a gold and a silver medal. Not only did they win medals, they did it on the very site where they would like to repeat in 2002.
Like I said, it they like to work ahead.
"If it keeps growing, in three years we'll have the home track advantage (in the Olympics)," says Becky Matanic, public relations director for the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.
The idea of American women competing in sledding isn't terribly new. Some say the sport actually began in Albany, N.Y., in the 1920s, but the Swiss - who built the first track - say it started in St. Moritz. In the early years there were co-ed teams riding something similiar to a toboggan.
"There were no courses, they just flew down hills. People would go flying into the trees and all that," says Matanic.
In 1940, Katherine Dewey - daughter of the man who invented the the Dewey Decimal System - drove the sled that, along with three men, won the AAU national championship. By all rights, that should have been the start of women and sledding in the Olympics. Instead, they ended up getting filed away like, well, a catalog card. AAU officials banned the sport for women, figuring someone might, you know, break a nail.
Today, of course, such caution seems silly. Women are auto racing, boxing and sky diving. They're playing high school football and wrestling - against the boys. They compete in marathons, karate, archery, biathlon and bike racing. There is support for such obscure specialty sports as synchronized swimming and even ballroom dancing. In that light, including skeleton and sledding as Olympic sports should be an easy decision.
Not so. It appears countries worldwide are looking at each other, waiting to see if the others make a move. In that light, the Americans are launching a pre-emptive strike. The U.S. sledders are hoping to get sanctioned no later than December, when the Women's International Circuit returns to Bear Hollow. As in job searching and romancing, timing is everything.
"What we're looking at with our goal this weekend," continues Matanic, "is to sell everything to the SLOC, that this is only positive, and try to get them to add this to their agenda."
Meanwhile, they can only hope their ideas are going in someone's day planners other than their own.