Jumpers soar into national media scene
Pardon the metaphor, but Park City’s women of the big hill may have just launched themselves into the big time. Not the Olympics just yet, but they have made a move that could drastically help their cause. This week, Women’s Ski Jumping USA (WSJ), as represented by some of America’s and the world’s top jumpers, Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome and Alissa Johnson, will appear on ABC News in a report by John Quinones about the women’s fight to have their sport included 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. With the 2006 Olympics looming on the horizon, it seemed that the girls couldn’t continue their struggle for too long. Perhaps it was the fact that the world is heading to Turin and the women are stuck competing in low-level competitions or maybe it was the bittersweet tale of the Johnson family who sent 16-year old son, Anders, to Turin this week, while their arguably more talented daughter, Alissa, is stuck cheering from the stands. Whatever the angle, the girls have a national platform now, and plan on making the most of it. And ABC is not the only network that has awakened to the women’s plight. According to WSJ’s marketing and media manager, Vic Method, a number of national news organizations have picked up the story. Olympic writer Jane McCauley of AP News published a story over the weekend. Christine Lagorio of CBSNewsonline.com. released a story on the Internet this week. Kate Amara of WBAL-TV in Baltimore, Md. put the story on her company’s website. Locally, Ryan Saunders of Utah Sports Magazine is covering the women. Ronda Thomas Farrell of the Exordium Group, Inc. in Park City has recently overhauled the WSJ website and along with the help of local videographer Fred Heslop has mailed out "Olympic History Still Left Behind", a press release and video about the women’s cause to the media as well as members of the International Ski Federation (FIS) and the United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA). This was done with the hope that these influential people would thank USSA president Bill Marolt for his organization’s recent pledge of support for the women when they see him in Turin during the Games. Saturday, Quinones, who owns a home in Deer Valley, had the three women over for the interview that may have been their most influential yet. Quinones started by pointing out that the American women are the reigning FIS World Champions and arguably the best overall women’s team in the world. After that, he let the women describe the long fight they have waged against the winter sports policy makers of the world. The girls talked about when they first came to the sport of ski jumping. For Van, who is really the first American woman to rise to the top in her sport,the love affair began immediately. "From the first jump, I was absolutely addicted," Van said. From there it was a bit of an uphill battle. They’ve had to prove their ability and strength, endure doctors saying that jumping could affect their fertility and others who just plain didn’t want women jumping. Now the challenge is getting into the Games. Jerome said that when they were younger, they all had the goal to be in the Olympics. The thought that they wouldn’t be able to be included never crossed their minds. "It’s frustrating, but its not a realistic goal," Jerome said. The girls compete year-round, which translates into training six days a week, 11 months a year for four years if they are allowed to compete in the next Winter Games, but Van says that men compete often until they are 40, so she is in it for the long haul. The problem now, she explains to Quinones, is continuing to change minds. "Why not," he asks. "That’s the big question. No one can give us a substantial answer There is nothing holding us back," Van said. One thing that is holding them back, it seems, though, is the FIS leadership who feel ski jumping is not for females. And because of this, the women find themselves often competing in bad weather, poor track conditions or jumping off of hills that are too small for their advanced skills. "The FIS makes us jump in conditions they would never do for the men," Jerome said. Johnson says that she doesn’t understand where these archaic notions are coming from. Not only is ski jumping the only sport in the Olympics without a women’s contingent but she thinks that her sport is thrilling. "It’s so much cooler to see a girl jump like that," Johnson said. " because it’s not expected." And she should know. The daughter of a ski jumping family, all of them have had to endure the mixed emotions of her brother making the Olympic team without her. "My little brother gets to go and I don’t," Johnson said, voice cracking. "I wish it was the two of us. Our family would be better if it was the two of us." But the girls tell Quinones that they will fight on for Vancouver thinking positively all the way. "It will be so exciting," Van said. "I won’t even know what to do." The girls used flying metaphors like "restricted air space" and "being so far back on the plane that they can’t even recline their seats," to put a label on their struggle for the ABC cameras. Quinones first became alerted to WSJ’s situation after talking to Method at a holiday party. When he realized the international implications and the injustice of the story he immediately pitched it to the suits in New York. "The more I looked at this, I realized this is a great story," Quinones said. "It’s a chance for us to do a story that no one else has done. These girls are amazing." And the girls appreciate his interest. "It feels like we’re in the 50s and 60s pushing women’s rights," Van said. "This should not be happening now." Van says that she often beats the men in competition and is tired of being left out. "It’s time, The sport is ready," Van said. "There are enough girls." Quinones dares to ask what will happen if they don’t make it into the Olympics as a sport. The question seems almost unfathomable for all three of them. All three of are committed to making the sport one of Olympic proportions. Not just for themselves, but for all the young female jumpers coming up in behind them. ABC did interviews with many of the young girls practicing in the National Sports Foundations programs at the Utah Olympic Park and all of them look up to the women as superstars. The girls have made a few strides, besides the national coverage, they have also received support from VISA as a sponsor, who has provided them with team jackets, a luxury they had never known before. They hope to add more sponsors as their equipment and travel needs cause them to hold constant fundraisers, work part-time jobs around their rigorous training schedules and use up much of their parents’ paychecks. ABC will continue to help the women in their fight. Both Quinones and producer Bonnie McLean have pledged to follow the women until they make it to the Games in Vancouver and plan to put the information on the revamped http://www.womeensskijumping.usa on their website. "We will be there if they make it Vancouver," Quinones said. "So we can look back at today and where they came from." As the girls were leaving Quinones’ house Johnson said, "I feel like this day is one I’ll never forget." ABC and the national media may just prove her right.
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