Ski jumper prepares for provocative leap into the unknown

Waiting finally over as women go for ski-jump gold at Olympics

Austrian ski jumper Daniela Iraschko-Stolz in training at Sochi this week: “It is a bit of an urge for risk.” Photograph: Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters

Austrian ski jumper Daniela Iraschko-Stolz in training at Sochi this week: “It is a bit of an urge for risk.” Photograph: Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters


The mountain village of Esto-Sadok feels like an unlikely place for progress to take th

at great leap forward.

In some places grey, in others brown, it has the look of a spot that existed peacefully and unmoved for centuries before Gamesmaster Putin decided to run a €6 billion road and rail system through it. Now it is a huge railway station with a village attached; oh, and a ski jump away up on that ridge there.

Yet tonight, at 7.00pm Irish time, that great leap forward will occur. We’re talking more than just a bad pun here. For the first time in the history of the Winter Olympics, a woman’s ski-jump competition will take place. Not only that, but it’s possible that the first female ski-jumping gold medallist will be a married lesbian.

Daniela Iraschko-Stolz is the 30-year-old Austrian jumper who is likely to find herself battling it out with Japanese teenager Sara Takanashi for gold. She married her longtime girlfriend last autumn and has been in Austria for more than 10 years. Her’s have been the best jumps in qualifying and if she carries that form through to tonight, she will be an Olympic champion.

Inevitably, Iraschko-Stolz has faced questions in the run-up to her competition as to how she will react should she win or even just make the podium. Equally inevitably, she made it clear on Sunday night that anyone waiting for a Smith-Carlos-style gesture will be waiting a while.

Diplomatic response
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to make protests here, no one cares,” she

says. “I know Russia will go and make the right steps in the future and we should give them time . . . I’m together with my woman now and don’t have any problems, not in Russia or with the Austrian federation. Ten years ago it was different.

“Naturally you have to look at it from a different point of view and always be critical, but especially in my situation, I don’t want to talk too much about it. I only want to focus on sports . . . I think you can also make a good statement by jumping well.”

Her coaches will hope Iraschko-Stolz has stayed well away from the internet since Sunday night. For the apparent crime of just wanting to concentrate on her first Olympic event, she has been the subject of an inordinate amount of abuse from a variety of columnists. One particularly spiteful piece on the Huffington Post website called her “a privileged princess living a ‘fairy-tale’ life in a corrupt system”.

All noise, of course. And given the lengths to which women ski jumpers have had to go to be allowed compete here, wrong-headed also. Iraschko-Stolz is one of 30 jumpers who filed a lawsuit to try to get the event into the Vancouver Olympics, without success. The IOC’s refusal was always predicated on the grounds that there wasn’t a deep enough field. But behind the objections lay the curious suggestion that to allow women to jump would be to endanger their chances of successful childbirth.

“Don’t forget,” Gianfranco Kasper, president of the International Ski Federation, told NPR in 2005, “it’s like jumping down from, let’s say, about two metres on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.”

Kasper was able to identify the medical journal in which he read this, yet he was only elucidating a viewpoint that had been commonly held for decades. American ski jumper Lindsey Van who will compete in tonight’s event, had the perfect riposte.

“It just makes me nauseous,” she said last year. “I’m sorry, but my baby-making organs are on the inside. Men have an organ on the outside. So if it’s not safe for me jumping down, and my uterus is going to fall out, what about the organ on the outside of the body?”

Anyway, that fight has been won now under lights at Esto-Sadok they will jump out into the sloping yonder. And if indeed Iraschko-Stolz wins, she will not need to wave a rainbow flag just to make a point.

Progress makes the jump under its own weight.

“My goal is always to stay up as long as possible,” she told an Austrian magazine last year. “But so far I have always landed. It is a bit of an urge for risk . . . You are entirely on your own for everything, for flying. That is why a good jump feels like freedom.”

Long may they soar.