Deedee Coradini was not being trite when she proclaimed that every woman about to compete in the Olympic ski jumping event in Sochi was already a winner.
“These medals are going to all the woman jumpers,” said the former mayor of Salt Lake City who was one of the battering rams in the decade-long effort to break the Olympic ban on female ski jumpers.
Indeed, each of the 30 women who flew off the ramp on Tuesday night could take satisfaction in knowing they were sports pioneers. Coradini was there to cheer on the first female Olympic ski jumpers and celebrate the victory for women’s rights.
Two Canadians – Taylor Henrich, 18, and Atsuko Tanaka, 22, both of Calgary -- were among the airborne athletes. They didn’t win but their mere presence in an event that would have nothing to do with female ski jumper since the winter Games made their debut in 1924 was a thrill for them.
“They fought for us to be here,” said Tanaka, referring to Coradini and some of the older female ski jumpers, among them Canada’s Katie Willis, who took the International Olympic Committee to task for their 90-year oversight.
The maiden competition was won by Carina Vogt of Germany, who had not been favoured to win gold. Silver went to Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria, who was expected win a medal, with bronze going to France’s Coline Mattel.
Tanaka and Henrich placed a respectable 12th and 13th in a field of 30. Invigorated by the new ski jumping’s Olympic acceptance, and their age – no sport at Sochi has such young athletes -- intend to keep competing.
Bill Hendrickson, the father of Sarah Hendrickson, the U.S. jumper who placed 21st in the final, said Sochi was a breakthrough for female sporting equality. “There was a notion that men are braver than women,” he said. “I think we have dispelled this myth.”
Canadian women played an instrumental role in pushing the International Olympic Committee to join the modern era. One of them was Katie Willis, now 22, who was Canada’s top female jumper before she called it quits in 2010 to pursue a chemical engineering degree at McGill University
As many as 15 women, including Willis and Corradini, sued the IOC in a Canadian court in 2009 on the basis of discrimination. Even though they won the case, it was only in 2011 that the IOC got around to endorsing the sport. The delay shattered the women ski jumpers because it meant they would be no shows in the 2010 Vancouver Games.
The women have not finished fighting. At Sochi, they were limited to the smaller of the two ski jumping hills. They are lobbying the IOC to allow them to compete on the larger hill in 2018.
In Montreal, Willis gathered about ten of her McGill friends to watch the event that she was instrumental in creating. She said the felt nervous for Henrich, Tanaka and the others as they sat beside the ramp, waiting their turns to hurl themselves 90 metres to 100 metres through the night air at 90 kms/hr. “It was a big day for them and the stakes were so high,” she said. “I did get my adrenalin rush, for sure.”