Women Lead Rebirth in College Ski Jumping

Lindsey Van Ski Jump

Here is an article about women’s nordic ski jumping  from the New York Times:

Women Lead Rebirth in College Ski Jumping

By BILL PENNINGTON

On Saturday, for the first time in 31 years, there will be a United States collegiate ski jumping championship. And for the first time, it will include women.

The competition in Park City, Utah, is being sanctioned by the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association, a federation of nearly 200 universities representing about 5,000 athletes that has been an alternative to N.C.A.A.-sponsored ski racing for three decades.

The N.C.A.A., which has a dozen Division I ski racing institutions and more than 30 affiliated ski teams over all, dropped ski jumping from its national championship in 1980, a move viewed as a death knell to ski jumping in the United States.

Soon, dozens of ski jumps were torn down or shuttered. And without collegiate ski jumping to aspire to, hundreds of high school ski jumping programs were abolished.

This year’s initiative is seen as a rebirth. It may be a baby step, with about 20 competitors, but it is being portrayed as a symbolic one, especially because it will include women at a time when there is no female ski jumping in the Winter Olympics.

“It’s kind of a ‘Field of Dreams’ moment,” said John Jacobs, the association’s board member who spearheaded the move to include ski jumping for the 2011 regular season and national championship. “We wanted to tell all the junior ski jumpers around the country, hey, don’t give up. Because we’re here waiting for them as they get older. And everyone is welcome.”

Danielle Lussi, a freshman at Harvard, qualified for Saturday’s nationals.

“It’s always been a bit deflating for young girls who jumped because they had little to look forward to,” Lussi said. “This will keep a lot of young jumpers in the sport. I’ve already been telling some of the younger ones, ‘Hey, did you know you can do this in college now?’ ”

In addition to ski jumping, the association has sanctioned Nordic combined, a combination of cross-country skiing and ski jumping. The organization also sponsors competitions in snowboarding and in Alpine, freestyle and cross-country skiing. Most of the more than 500 teams in the association are considered club programs at their institutions, although most have paid coaches and some have six-figure budgets.

Ski jumping was once the N.C.A.A.’s most prominent snow sport competition. The first national ski championship was in 1954, with hundreds of jumpers and thousands of spectators. Many colleges, including Dartmouth, Williams, Middlebury and Colorado, had ski jumps.

But according to Chip LaCasse, who sat on the board of the N.C.A.A. skiing rules committee at the end of the 1970s, there was pressure on the college ski community to consolidate — or lose its N.C.A.A. backing.

“They wanted one ski championship combining the results of the men and the women teams,” said LaCasse, who headed the powerhouse University of Vermont ski program for 34 years.

He added: “Title IX was becoming a bigger factor in decisions, and when we went to merge the men and the women, we looked at ski jumping and knew we had a problem. Because back then there was no women’s ski jumping championship. There were only about three or four women jumpers in the whole nation.”

LaCasse said: “I was a college ski jumper and I love the sport. But I voted, like the rest of the rules committee, to eliminate ski jumping. I did it to save skiing as an N.C.A.A. sport. I did it for the greater good.”

Within a few years, the ski jumps at Dartmouth, Williams and Middlebury disappeared. So did dozens of high school jumps.

“Ski jumps around the country just vaporized,” said Alan Johnson, the athletic director of USA Ski Jumping, which has become the closest thing to a national governing body of elite-level jumping. “The number of jumpers declined and there wasn’t enough money.”

Local clubs remained and offered training near jumps where the following was passionate. But Walter Malmquist, who competed for the United States at the 1976 and 1980 Winter Olympics, noticed a steady decline.

“We used to have 150 participants at competitions,” said Malmquist, who helps coach junior jumpers in New Hampshire. “Not that long ago, we were having trouble getting 30 or 40.”

In the last decade, however, there was a sudden surge in the number of jumpers registered with the United States Ski Association. There were 411 registered in 2000 and 602 in 2006, dipping to 532 in 2009.

Many in the ski community credited an influx of young female ski jumpers.

“About 40 percent of our new ski jumpers are girls,” Malmquist said. “It may have been seen as a male sport 30 years ago, but these girls don’t know about that, or care.”

At the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club in Colorado, half the jumpers in the developmental program are female. Jay Rand, executive director of the New York Ski Education Foundation, which runs programs at the Olympic Jumping Complex at Lake Placid, said 12 of his organization’s 45 junior jumpers were girls.

On Wednesday, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee said he would recommend that women’s ski jumping be included in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. While the I.O.C. twice voted against adding the sport for the 2010 Vancouver Games, late last year its board said it was weighing it “favorably.” A decision is expected in April.

Some of the best female jumpers in the world are Americans. Lindsey Van of Park City won the inaugural women’s world championship in 2009, though she failed to defend her title last week.

This year, the ski and snowboard association sanctioned 10 regular-season jumping events. The field for Saturday’s event will be small, but several members of the jumping community predicted that as word of the initiative spread, the number of collegiate jumpers and Nordic combined athletes would blossom.

“It is a first start, but in five years, we absolutely will have 50 jumpers, or more, qualifying for nationals,” said Laura Sullivan, the association’s executive director. “The phone began ringing off the hook as soon as we announced we were doing this. You’ve got to give the colleges a little time to get organized and to find the jumpers, but that whole jumping community is very aware and excited.

“We’ve been through this with other sports. So far, the growth in ski jumping has been faster than when we added snowboarding.”

Karin Friberg, 21, who will jump Saturday representing the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, said she had been pointing toward the event for months.

“In the past, there were a lot of 16- to 18-year-old ski jumpers who would come to the realization that they weren’t going to make the national team and they would just give up the sport,” Friberg said. “It was a shame. But now there is a new opportunity. There will definitely be jumpers who choose to go to college so they can keep jumping. College ski jumping will become a destination.”

Friberg wondered if it might even raise the quality of American Olympic-level jumping.

“Not everyone peaks at 18,” she said. “It’s good to keep as many of us out there as we can. Besides, what’s more fun than flying through the air?”

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