Women’s nordic combined should be in the Olympics

The International Olympic Committee waited too long to make women’s ski jumping an Olympic sport, but at long last it became one this February at the Sochi games. Now it’s time to do the same with women’s nordic combined for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Nordic combined, which mixes ski jumping and cross-country skiing, is the last Winter Olympic sport with male-only competition. That dubious distinction needs to be wiped out.

We fully admit we have a local bias here. We have a local young woman who is making excellent progress toward her goal of being an Olympian in nordic combined, and we don’t want her to be locked out by sexism.

At the Junior National Championships Feb. 23 in Anchorage, Alaska, 15-year-old Gabby Armstrong of Lake Placid won the women’s under-17 title in the 5-kilometer nordic combined individual event. The Lake Placid High School freshman finished fourth in the jumping and started the ski race 1 minute, 13 seconds behind the top jumper, but her skiing was so strong that she finished more than a minute ahead of the silver medalist.

Lake Placid High School and the New York Ski Educational Foundation also had some young men do well at the sport’s Junior Nationals, and we’re very proud of them, too. Karl Schulz had the top finish among NYSEF racers, placing sixth in the men’s under-17 5k. Miles Lussi placed 11th, and Landon Livreri finished 17th.

Now that Billy Demong has retired from the Olympics, the Lake Placid area is hard at work developing the next generation of nordic combined athletes. As Mr. Demong said at a March 2010 welcome-home parade in Saranac Lake, “I hope that this medal, that these medals (his 2010 Olympic gold and silver), go into the collective consciousness of these children and that someday this will be thought of as the beginning of nordic domination for the United States.”

As of now, if these boys commit to the sport and do well, they have a shot at continuing Mr. Demong’s Olympic glory. Girls like Ms. Armstrong don’t have that opportunity, however, and there’s absolutely no good reason for it.

The excuses have never been convincing. In 2005, Gian-Franco Kaspar, then the head of the International Ski Federation and an IOC member, told North Country Public Radio’s Brian Mann that ski jumping “seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.” That, of course, was ridiculous. Mr. Kaspar wasn’t a doctor and didn’t present medical evidence – not that there could have been any – yet his kind of sexist rationalization apparently equated to international sports policy.

Thank God those days are over. Women’s ski jumping was a popular part of last month’s Sochi Olympics, even though the sport was confined to a single day while the men’s jumping had three events: normal hill, large hill and team. Hopefully women’s jumping will get three events as well in Pyeongchang.

We were also glad to see that new IOC President Thomas Bach told Reuters news service, during the Sochi Olympics last month, that he wants women’s nordic combined to join the Olympics.

“We have ski jumping for women, cross country for women, so why should we not have nordic combined?” he said.

Why not, indeed?