Olympic Skiers Told Jumping Could Cause Infertility

3921662969_535c5efe07When the winter Olympics come to Vancouver next week, it’ll be bittersweet for female ski jumpers.

Despite their best effort to get the International Olympics Committee to change their position, 15 women jumpers will not be allowed to compete in ski jumping or Nordic combined — the only two Winter Olympic sports without a women’s division.

What’s curious, though, is why women who want to jump are being left out of the competition.

Officially, the athletes, who include Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome, are told that women jumpers aren’t good enough jumpers, and that there just aren’t enough competitors in the field.  But unofficially, there’s concern that ski jumping could damage female skiers ovaries and lead to infertility.

While not an official stance taken by the IOC, it’s a pervasive rumor.  In a must-read article about the debate, Ruth Gregory, professor of women’s reproductive rights and athletics, says that the infertility argument was also once used to keep women from running marathons.  After Bobbi Gibbs, the first woman to run a public marathon, crossed the finish line, it took the IOC 20 more years to allow female marathoners to compete in the Olympics.

Van and 14 other athletes sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games for gender discrimination and lost. The Canadian Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal, so these women won’t be jumping for medals anytime soon.  Let’s hope it doesn’t the IOC another 20 years to change their minds.

Photo: tpower1978, Flickr

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