Closing the gap? Momentum builds for women skiers to compete in excluded Olympic event

PARK CITY, Utah — The season opener for the men’s and women’s Summer Grand Prix across Europe is getting underway for Nordic Combined (ski jumping and cross country skiing), an annual global competition put on by the International Ski Federation (FIS). Nordic Combined remains the only Winter Olympic sport not to allow women to contest.

In the realm of sports governance, a groundbreaking stride towards gender equality has been made this month with the hiring of Jacqueline Stark in the role of FIS Nordic Combined Committee Chairwoman.

The Austrian has made history by becoming the first woman to preside over a FIS Disciplines Committee, shattering glass ceilings and paving the way for increased inclusivity in the traditionally male-dominated sports administration.

From club-level leadership up to running the Organizing Committee of the World Championships, she is no stranger to the inner workings of the sport. 

Since 2019 she’s worked for the Austrian Ski Federation (ÖSV), which, she said in an interview with FIS, “fulfill[ed] a small dream of mine.” She’s working in the Nordic Combined and Ski Jumping divisions as Sports Coordinator and Youth Advisor, in charge of the nominations of athletes for various competitions and coordinating accommodation, transport, and training for their teams. She’s the direct contact person for all athletes and supervisors and assists the sports management as well as the state ski associations and clubs.

“You are not only the first woman to chair the NC Committee,” asked FIS in the interview, “you are also the first ever Chairwoman of any FIS Committee. How important is this step to gender equality at FIS?”

To FIS, she replied, “I firmly believe that this was a very important first step towards FIS’ Gender Equality. Sports are one of the most powerful platforms for promoting gender equality. The interaction between women and men is very important in the process because, regardless of gender, everyone brings their strengths and can achieve great things. I am convinced that we will make further progress in the future if we use everyone’s skills accordingly, act as a community, and treat each other with respect and in a spirit of partnership.”

“Have you set any goals for your new role? Or is there something that you would like to change/achieve?” asked FIS.

Stark said to FIS, “Due to the decision of the International Olympic Committee last year, Nordic Combined has to face many challenges. I would like to strengthen the connection between nations even more through regular information exchange and develop the sport together. It is very important to me to be able to give back to our sport and to be able to make a corresponding contribution. We have to show the world how extraordinary and varied the sport of Nordic Combined is and how important the next steps are for us to offer the very young discipline of Nordic Combined women the opportunity to develop further and fulfill the athletes dream of participating in the Olympic Winter Games.”

USA Nordic, the sport’s National Leadership Organization, and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard, the National Governing Body are both headquartered in Park City. That’s where TownLift caught up with Todd Wilson. The Nordic Combined two-time Olympian was in town coaching his Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club athletes at the Utah Olympic Park. Wilson’s 16-year-old daughter is a driven and accomplished Nordic Combined competitor.

He told TownLift, “I would absolutely love to see women’s Nordic Combined accepted into the Olympic program! It’s been exciting to watch the FIS opening up opportunities for women’s NC and watching its growth internationally over the last number of years. In Ski Town USA, Colorado where we have the largest ski jumping and Nordic Combined program in the world, our young girls have taken notice. At our home club, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, females represent over 1/3 of our overall Nordic Combined program. Seeing them given the same opportunities as their male counterparts seems like a very logical progression in the Olympic movement in a sport that has been contested in every Winter Olympic Games since 1932. Additionally, it would make the Winter Games 100% gender equal as NC is currently the only Winter Olympic sport not open to women.”

Wilson’s daughter Ella has been training in Norway this week, from where she told TownLift, “It has always been, and always will be a hope of mine to see women’s Nordic Combined in the Olympics. Not only for me to fulfill my dream of becoming an Olympian but for the growth this chance will give us in our sport.”

Penny Fletcher has raised two Nordic Combined multi-Olympian sons in Bryan and Taylor, and is the grandmother of a single-digit aged granddaughter. All have spent much of their lives with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and most of their time in the Park City, Heber, Midway area of late.

She told TownLift, “As a mother of two men U.S. Olympic team members I have sat on the sidelines watching the commitment that these young women have put into NOCO. The young athletes deserve the opportunity to be equal in the eyes of the world. Having a grand daughter who could one day be faced with a lack of the opportunity to compete due to her gender, is not fair and borders on selective discrimination. A opportunity should be given to all.”

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