ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Of all the things you need to worry about when flying more than 100 yards off a 377-foot-tall ski jump at 60 miles an hour, you’d think your outfit would be way down on the list. But as several Olympians learned to their wrenching chagrin Tuesday, what you wear on the jump is every bit as important as where you land.
Five ski jumpers — all of them women — were disqualified from Tuesday’s mixed team jump event. All of the women, representing Austria, Japan, Norway and Germany, were deemed to be wearing loose-fitting clothing that could have given them extra loft while in the air.
Suits matter for ski jumpers; you probably don’t want to go flying through the air in a wedding dress or suit of armor, for instance. On the other hand, a suit with extra material in just the right places could catch the wind and keep the jumper aloft like a flying squirrel. The problem with Tuesday’s DQs is that the suits the jumpers were wearing had apparently been cleared in earlier jump outings.
“The [International Ski Federation] destroyed everything with this operation. I think they have destroyed women’s ski jumping,” said Katharina Althaus, a three-time Olympian and 2018 silver medalist, after the DQs came down. “I have been checked so many times in 11 years of ski jumping, and I have never been disqualified once. I know my suit was compliant.”
Althaus later shared her frustration on Instagram. “160 World Cup starts, 5x World Championships, 3x Olympic Games and I got DSQ for the first time,” she wrote. “My heart is broken.”
“We stick together no matter what!” fellow German jumper Karl Geiger wrote on social media. “Nevertheless, I have to ask myself whether the regulations for the women were changed overnight, with so many disqualifications?!? It was neither the right time nor the right place to disqualify so many athletes from different nations.”
“It is just strange that they have been using the same suits yesterday and there was no problem,” German coach Stefan Horngacher said. “It is annoying that this happens at the Winter Olympic Games. This should all be cleared before.”
“I am sorry on behalf of ski jumping,” Norwegian ski jumping chief of sports Clas Brede Braathen said. “This is something we should have cleaned up in before the Olympics. The sport of ski jumping has experienced one of its darker days today.”
He noted that the DQs threaten to undo all the recent strides made by ski jumping, which has a less-than-stellar record of accommodating women.
"I'm lost for words, really," Braathen adds. "This is very painful for the athletes. I'm in pain on behalf of our sport. We were going to introduce a new event. The girls were to get a new event in the Olympics, and that's how it ends. And why are only girls being disqualified?"
Women have had to fight for decades to get ski jumping added to the Olympics. European sports officials resisted efforts to allow women to jump, employing arguments that leaped straight from the ramp of rationality into the pitch darkness of ignorance and sexism. An example:
"Don't forget it's like jumping down ... on the ground about a thousand times a year," said Gian Franco Kaspar, former head of the International Ski Federation, "which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view."
This wasn’t in 1965. This was in 2005.
The IOC finally accepted women’s ski jumping into the Olympics in 2014. Germany’s Carina Vogt flew 103 meters and somehow didn’t explode on impact to win the gold that year. The IOC permitted mixed team jump to join the Olympic program this year.
As for the competition itself: Slovenia won with 1,001.5 points, well clear of Russia at 890.3 and Canada at 844.6. The winners had a little sympathy, but only a little, for the DQ’d jumpers.
“Equipment is very important in sport and disqualifications happen,” Canada’s Abigail Strate said. “It's a very common thing to happen in ski jumping and the fact that it happened at the Olympics just goes to show that they were taking the rules pretty strictly and seriously because it is the absolute highest level of sport.”
Asked whether her medal was bittersweet because of the DQs, Strate didn’t hesitate. "I don't think this is a bittersweet medal at all,” she said. “I think it's as sweet as a medal can come."
“Even if you count all the distances and judge points from the unlucky ones on today’s competition,” Slovenia’s Peter Prevc said, “we should still be first, so it’s still great.”