On 11 February at the Sochi Winter Olympics, an amazing thing will happen as women will be allowed to compete for the first time for medals in the ski jump! Ninety years since men first jumped as part of the Olympics, it has taken until 2014 before the first women are being invited to compete. It is almost impossible to believe that an inequality like this could still exist within such a global event as the Olympics. How has this been allowed to drag on for so long?
Deedee Corradini, President of Women's Ski Jumping USA said "these women have sat on the sidelines... watching these boys and their brothers march in as Olympians when in many cases they [the girls] are the better jumpers."
The US and Canadian women's ski jump teams had first petitioned the International Olympic Committee for a women's event back in 1998. In 2010 the women lost a court case against the organisers of the Vancouver Winter Olympics causing US jumper Lindsey Van to turn her back on the sport in despair. It was great to see Lindsey's happy face when she was finally selected a few days ago to be part of the very first US women's Olympic ski jump team.
However, despite these celebrations, women have not achieved full equality. Not yet. There are only 30 women competing within ski jumping at Sochi (at World Cup events this number is 40) whilst the men have 50 competitors as standard. Also the women will not be competing on the large hill. According to Yahoo, the Russian men's ski jump coach Alexander Arefyev said: "If I had a daughter I would never allow her to jump - it's too much hard work. Women have a different purpose: to raise children, do the housework." Surely he was joking? But perhaps he wasn't!
Lindsey Van said of the women's victory that they had first had to fight a political battle, before finally turning their attention to the athletic battle on the slopes. Luke Bodensteiner, US Ski and Snowboard Association Executive Vice President said: "through their unwavering personal dedication they [Jessica Jerome, Lindsey Van and Sarah Hendrickson] have progressed their sport over the past four years to a point where it's undoubtedly and undebatably worthy of the medals that will be handed out at Sochi."
Closer the home, Sochi is also proving very exciting for members of Team GB whose largest haul of medals was back in 1924. Whilst for the British men, James Woods is a hot favourite for a medal in Slopestyle, Woods is part of a new phenomenon as British men and women are entering the winter Olympics with a real chance of medals. This new generation of British athletes have learnt their skills, not in the Alps, but on the indoor slopes and domes of the UK. Once given the disparaging nickname (by other athletes) of "fridge kids" it is the female competitors who are set to change the fortunes of Team GB on the slopes of Sochi. Inspired no doubt by Team GB's success at London 2012, from skeleton to curling, speed-skating to half-pipe these young British women, across both the Olympic and Paralympic winter games, are set to become house-hold names - just like the stars of London such as Nicola Adams, Victoria Pendleton and Ellie Simmonds.
Many people are putting the success of the women down to their training alongside their British male counterparts. This younger generation of athletes don't see any differentiation between men and women, they train side-by-side as equals. Modern sports for a modern generation of athletes - something so refreshing - which makes the decision to allow women to compete in all the sports across the games not only a good thing to do - it is the only thing to do.
Lizzy Yarnold, Elise Christie, Katie Summerhayes, Shelley Rudman, Eve Muirhead and Rowan Cheshire are set to become the names on everyone's lips, along with those amazing flying women jumpers! Despite all the controversy behind the Sochi games, I for one, cannot wait to see the women from all the Olympic teams from all over the world do incredible things on the slopes, the pipes and the ice.
Good Luck Girls!
Karen Ruimy is co-founder of global gender equality charity The Great Initiative www.thegreatinitiative.org.uk