Anger and confusion overflowed at the Olympic mixed-team ski jumping final in China after five female competitors were disqualified from the event by officials who said their jumpsuits didn’t comply with the rules. The shocking outcome sparked tears and left athletes and coaches struggling to describe what they had just experienced.
The disqualified jumpers represent four of the top ski jumping teams in the world: Sara Takanashi of Japan; Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria; Katharina Althaus of Germany; and Anna Odine Stroem and Silje Opseth of Norway, according to NPR.
The rules specify how much tolerance is allowed in the suit, as measured when an athlete is standing in an upright position.
If you’re wondering how specific the rules are, consider that they dictate what kind of underwear jumpers can wear, and they forbid jumpers from tucking their hair into their suit. They also specify the suit’s air permeability, as well as the number and location of its seams.
As several of the athletes and coaches acknowledged, this is far from the first time women’s jumpsuits have been at the center of controversy.
“For years, every female ski jumper around the world was required to have extra panels sewn in around her hips,” Emily Russell of North Country Public Radio reported last week. “The International Ski Federation (FIS), which sets competition standards for the sport, said the additional hip panels were meant to fit a woman’s body better.”
But some athletes said the extra panels mainly seemed to emphasize the curves of women’s bodies. The FIS changed the rules about those panels in its 2020 specifications — but now women’s suits are again making headlines, on winter sports’ biggest stage.
A roundup of reactions, via Reuters:
- “We just pulled the crap card. That is how you destroy nations, development and the entire sport,” said Germany’s Althaus, who already has won a silver medal in Beijing in an individual event.
- “This is a parody, but I am not laughing,” said German sports director Horst Huttel.
- “The sport of ski jumping has experienced one of its darker days,” said Clas Brede Braathen, the Norwegian national team manager for ski jumping.
- “For me, it is a puppet theater. The entire season the suits have been an issue. I am unbelievably angry and I don’t understand it,” said German team coach Stefan Horngacher.
The controversy marred the Olympic debut of the mixed-team competition. Instead of celebrating gender equity — a main priority for Olympic organizers — the disqualifications “became the main topic of the day,” according to the sport’s governing body, FIS.
Slovenia won gold in the event, propelled by Nika Kriznar and Ursa Bogataj, both of whom had already medaled in earlier individual competitions. Silver went to the Russian Olympic Committee and bronze to Canada — two countries that had never reached the podium in mixed-team events at the world championships or the World Cup, according to the Olympics’ news feed.
The disqualified athletes’ jumpsuits were reportedly too large, potentially giving them an unfair advantage as they soared through the air. Ski jumping is governed by exacting rules that account for a number of variables, from an athlete’s weight to the size and cut of the athletes’ jumpsuits.
Takanashi’s coach “said her suit was supposedly too big around the thighs, even though she wore it in the women’s normal hill event on Saturday,” Japan’s NHK reported. “He added that the extreme dry weather may have affected her body’s moisture content.”
Like Takanashi, other athletes said they competed in the same jumpsuits they wore in earlier events. That includes Opseth, who told Norwegian media that what changed wasn’t her suit, but the way it was measured.
But FIS official Aga Baczkowska told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK that the equipment inspection followed the rules, adding that it’s up to each team to ensure its suits are in compliance.
“The jumping suit must in all places and parts be tight-fitting the athlete’s body,” according to the FIS equipment measuring guidelines that were updated in November.