John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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It only takes one jump, a few brief seconds of flight, to see how much 22-year-old Lindsay Van loves to ski jump.
It's a good thing she loves to jump.
Like so many other female ski jumpers her age, she's spent most of her life attempting to clear hurdles. The ones on the jump hill are easy compared to the ones she faces everyday off the hill.
"You've got to roll with it," Van said. "It makes you realize why you are doing the sport. I'm not doing it for the recognition. I'm doing it because we love it."
On the hill, she has soared to several national titles and has a reputation as one of the top female ski jumpers in the country. But off the hill, Van, and other women like her, continue to fight for the respect of those who make the rules.
In our country, the sport of women's ski jumping is moving forward. This year, the U.S. Ski Team stepped forward to offer their support. They named an official team, supported it financially and will back it up this week by handing checks to the women who win national titles for the first time ever.
It's a small step in the right direction for the sport, but one that is welcomed by Van.
Unfortunately, just as the sport is taking flight in the United States, the International Olympic Committee brought the women who practice the sport back to earth with one brutal decision.
Instead of adding women's ski jumping to the list of sports for the 2010 Canada Olympics, the IOC decided to go with women's skiercross.
"We are not very happy with the International Olympic Committee," Van said. "I think they are scared about what can happen with women's ski jumping, and that is holding the sport back. It's not that we are not good enough or that we don't have enough athletes. It's the FIS and IOC that's holding us back now. It's extremely frustrating."
Personally, I think it's sad the Olympic Committee hasn't welcomed women's ski jumping with open arms. Not because ski jumping and Nordic combined are the only two sports that don't offer men's and women's divisions in the Winter Olympics, but because the women who ski jump have proven they belong.
These athletes are not jumping for money, attention or the medals so many of our top Olympic athletes dream of winning.
They jump for the love of their sport, and these women deserve the chance to prove they can match their skills with other women from around the world in the international spotlight. Truth is, they are willing to jump even without it. Every time they climb to the top of the jump hill, these athletes remind the powers that make the rules that the Olympics shouldn't be about money, television ratings or gaining a younger, more hip audience.
The Olympic Games are about bringing the world together for the love of sport.