Kip Kopelke, a coach for both men and
women ski jumpers throughout the Midwest, works with Karla
Keck on a form exercise.
This year women have leapt into the history books by running for
the highest offices in American politics.
When it comes to Olympic ski jumping, however, they remain
Working to shatter that snowy ceiling is Karla Keck of Oconomowoc,
a former ski jumper who saw her own Olympic aspirations crushed by
international sports officials.
Keck is a plaintiff in a Canadian lawsuit seeking to have a womenís
event added to the Olympic ski jumping schedule for the 2010 Vancouver
Games, just 15 months away.
"Itís just not right, whatís happening," says Keck.
"Little girls ask why they canít be in the Olympics and I donít
think any girl should have to ask that question."
Ski jumping is the only Winter Olympics event that excludes women.
So, the suit was filed against the Vancouver organizing committee,
saying the exclusion is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights
The International Olympic Committee has rejected earlier pleas from
women ski jumpers, but could take another vote on the matter when its
executive board meets next month in Switzerland.
"Thatís whatís so sad," says Deedee Corradini,
president of Womenís Ski Jumping USA, headquartered in Park City,
Utah. "If the IOC could just see that they could shine if they
let the women in. They could brag about how theyíve got the first
totally equal Olympics in history."
Womenís Ski Jumping 2010, a Canadian-based organization, says
women have met the IOCís criteria for "universality"
because 16 nations have women ski jumpers registered with FIS, the
sportís international governing body. In addition, 35 different
athletes from nine countries scored top-10 finishes in Continental Cup
events in the past two years, an indication that no one country would
dominate Olympic competition.
FIS will hold its first sanctioned womenís world championship in
February 2009 and will have staged four world junior championships for
women before the Vancouver Games are held. An exhibition womenís
event was contested at the 1995 worlds, several years after women
began competing in the United States and Europe.
"The pioneering years are over. We are a sport," says
Keck. Count Keck, now 33 years old, among the trailblazers.
Growing up near the Devilís Hollow hill in Oconomowoc, she began
ski jumping at the age of 3-1/2 and first competed when she was five.
Events were held on small hills all over the Midwest, and the Kecks
traveled to them regularly. "My dad (Bob) had been on the U.S.
Ski Team, and my older brother (John) started jumping," remembers
Keck. "My mom (Carol) never wanted to stay home when Dad was
jumping because sheíd get so nervous, so sheíd take us
It wasnít all that common for Keck to have other girls to compete
against, so of course she jumped against the boys, moving to larger
hills as she grew older and stronger. She was among the first females
to compete on a K90 hill, just like in the Olympics.
As the years passed, Keck jumped in events throughout Europe, even
being part of an experimental program in Austria that provided women
with top-tier training to see whether they could compete successfully
against men. In 1994, she tried out for the menís Olympic team; any
disappointment in not making that squad was tempered by her
expectation that soon there would be an event added for women.
"I thought, ĎYeah, thatís my goal, my dream,í" says
Keck. "Those are Olympic values, American values that you can
have a dream and that itís going to be a difficult road and that it
takes a lot of time and dedication, and you have to put your whole
life into it."
The 1998 Games came and went without womenís ski jumping, as did
the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City and the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy.
Even as she served as Salt Lakeís mayor leading up to the Games,
Corradini says she was unaware that women had no ski jumping
competition in the Olympics. "I was incensed," says
Corradini. Later, when she met Keck and other athletes in the sport, I
thought, ĎThis is a cause worth fighting for,í" and she
helped form the advocacy group.
Corradini and others involved in Womenís Ski Jumping USA
volunteer their time to the cause. Keck does draw a salary as director
of the VISA Womenís Ski Jumping Team. She works with athletes and
secures funding for them. Among the top competitors in the Midwest is
19-year-old Elisabeth Anderson of Eau Claire.
VISA, also a worldwide Olympic sponsor, has a multiyear deal to
back the woman ski jumpers. But Keckís talents arenít all on the
ski jump. In 2005, she graduated from Waukesha County Technical
College with a design degree and is owner of Keck Design Studio.
"Interior design is my full-time job, and getting womenís ski
jumping in the Olympics in 2010 is my second full-time job."
Keck comes from a long line of architects and artists, and used her
free time while living and competing in Europe to explore its cities
for ideas she could use in her own designs.
When it comes to lobbying for womenís ski jumping, Corradini says
there could be no better spokesperson than Keck, who last competed in
2006. "Sheís someone who was denied an opportunity to go to the
Olympics because they wouldnít allow it when she was in her
prime," explains Corradini. "She became an example for us,
along with our current jumpers, in making the case as to why they
should be included."
Last January, Americaís top female jumper, 23-year-old Lindsey
Van of Park City, Utah, set the overall K90 record at the hill that
will be used for the Olympics. A month later, though, IOC President
Jacques Rogge came to Vancouver and said the number of participants in
womenís ski jumping was too low for the Games, adding that including
women in Olympic ski jumping would mean the medals were "diluted
and watered down."
Corradini contends that bobsled and skeleton, which were added for
the 2002 Games, and ski-cross, which debuted in 2006, all have fewer
female competitors worldwide than does ski jumping. "The facts
are on our side," says Corradini.
In 2007, FIS voted to recommend the addition of womenís ski
jumping to the Olympics, but the IOCís executive board hasnít
agreed ó yet.
The lawsuit might force the IOCís hand, Corradini says. The suit
notes that Canadian federal and provincial law prohibits the use of
government funds for venues that exclude women. If a womenís event
isnít added, the proponents are calling for an injunction to block
the organizers from holding menís ski jumping events. Some say,
however, that the Vancouver organizing committee falls outside the
jurisdiction of such anti-discrimination laws.
"Itís our last resort," says Keck. "We have tried
so very hard for so many years. But how many years do you expect these
girls to keep their skill level up and put their lives on hold? Theyíre
all going for this dream. They donít want to lose this