The Winter Olympics Ski Jump Is A Battleground For Gender Equality

Robert Cianflone/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Let's face it: The Winter Olympics features lots of sports we're not used to watching on a weekly (or even monthly) basis. That means broadcasts of the various competitions in PyeongChang, South Korea, are likely to prompt questions over the next two weeks. When it comes to ski jumping, one of the sports that already began before the opening ceremony, you might imagine the most basic question: How tall is the South Korea Olympics ski jump?

The answer? It depends.

There are two different hills from which competitors make their jumps at the Alpensia Olympic Park, the ski jumping venue at the PyeongChang games.

The lower of the two hills, referred to as the "normal hill," is about 78 meters (266 feet) above the area where jumpers land, according to the Olympics' official site. The higher of the two hills, referred to as the "large hill," is just over 115 meters (377 feet) higher than the landing zone.

The men's ski jumping events at the Olympics use both hills at the Alpensia Olympic Park. The women only use the shorter hill. The video below shows the heigh of both hills, complete with angles that show a ski jumper's view while competing.

“It is indescribable. You feel that there is so much power and pressure involved, it’s a real adrenaline rush to experience,” Norwegian Olympian Maren Lundby told ahead of the start of the Winter Games. “You feel like you break the law of gravity in a way. If you hit the right angle with the skis, then you just fly out from the hill.”

On Monday, Feb. 12, Lundby captured gold in the women's normal hill jump in PyeongChang after jumping 110 meters (360 feet) from takeoff during the second of the two final rounds, which was just one meter from the record for women on the normal hill. The 23-year-old medalist shares the same birthplace as the first-ever gold medal winner in ski jumping at the Olympics, Norway's Jacob Tullin Thams.

Only men competed in that inaugural ski jumping event, which occurred in 1924, the first year the winter Olympics debuted. Ski jumping at the Olympics now includes four events, three for men and one for women. That change only went into effect at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the first Olympics that occurred after the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) 2011 decision to insert the women's normal hill event at the games. (So, yes, that's right, there was no women's ski jump competition at the Olympics until 2014.)

"It's like, 'Here, we'll give you a little piece,' and then, 'Go away, leave us alone,'" retired American ski jumper Lindsey Van — not to be confused with American alpine skier Lindsey Vonn — told The Chicago Tribune. "I still think that it's an old boys' club."

Harry How/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

In 2008, Van was among a group of 10 female competitors from six different countries who filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the IOC, seeking the right to compete at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

The breakthrough would come four years later than those competitors aimed for, with Team USA's Sarah Hendrickson becoming the first woman to officially jump at the Winter Olympics.

“We got all the excuses, but finally we were able to get it in,” Hendrickson told the Today show's Willie Geist in an interview that aired on Sunday, Feb. 11. “A lot of my older teammates, I am thankful for how they fought. We don’t really know the exact answer, but we’re glad that we have our foot in the door now.”

There's no doubt that Hendrickson and other women will be aim to get their feet past the door in future Olympics and onto the large hill, where their male counterparts already are.