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Why women can't ski jump in the Winter Olympics

Women ski jumpers sue for the right to compete in the Vancouver Olympics and stop men from jumping if women can't.

Lindsey Van (c.) set the ski jump record – for both men and women – at the Vancouver Olympic facility, but she can’t compete in the Games.

Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

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Unless a Canadian court decides otherwise, the ski jumper with the longest flight on record at Vancouver's Olympic facility will not attend the winter Games in February.

She is not allowed to compete.

Olympic ski jumping is a men's-only domain. Since the first winter Games in 1924, men have been swooping down snowy ramps at 55 m.p.h. and springing into flight – human rockets hurtling chin-first, hands thrown behind, and skis angled forward. With nothing but speed and their skis to aid them, they fly the length of a football field or farther – a feat of technical genius disguised in balletic grace.

But women can do it, too – the best often flying as far as men.

With women now included in such formerly all-male Olympic events as boxing, wrestling, bobsleigh, and luge, the last Olympic door closed to women is ski jumping.

But American ski jumper Lindsey Van – who set the record on the 90-meter jump when the Olympic venue opened in Vancouver, British Columbia, last year and is the reigning world champion – hasn't given up on prying that door open. It's a logical step for the 24-year-old, who, since age 7, has been soaring over Earth's mundane limits on what is possible.

She and more than a dozen other women jumpers from Slovenia to Norway hope to legally force the addition of women's jumping before the Games open Feb. 12. Their lawsuit against the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) contends that not allowing women to jump for gold is a form of discrimination under Canadian laws that prohibit gender discrimination in government activities.

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