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Lindsey V for victory (and second place)

February 20, 2009 | 10:20 am


Lindsey Van celebrates her historic triumph. Credit: Getty Images / Michal Cizek

Friday was a good day to be a 24-year-old U.S. skier who lives in Park City, Utah, and is named Lindsey V.

Lindsey Van went into the history books as the first women’s world champion in ski jumping.

Lindsey Vonn, who won two titles at this year's Alpine Worlds, got back to a podium for the first time since slicing her thumb on a broken Champagne bottle 12 days ago, finishing second to Maria Riesch of Germany in a World Cup super combined race at Tarvisio, Italy.

It’s too bad only one of them will have a chance to do it again next year in the Olympics, unless the Supreme Court of British Columbia rules in the jumpers’ favor this spring.

Ten jumpers from six countries have sued the Vancouver Olympic organizers to gain admission to the 2010 Games. The suit contends excluding the women jumpers violates Canadian law against gender discrimination.

"This is for all the women who have been pushing the sport over the last 10 years," said Van, among the plaintiffs.

Despite pressure from those who see women jumpers advancing the idea of gender equity in the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee has steadfastly refused to allow them in the 2010 Vancouver Games. The IOC maintains the issue is one of sport development rather than sexism, saying there still is too small a pool of athletes and countries and the competitive level is too low.

Based only on numbers, that argument doesn’t hold.

There were 36 jumpers from 13 countries in the women’s event at the Nordic World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic.

There were only 20 sleds from 12 countries entered in the women’s event at the bobsled worlds that began Friday in Lake Placid. And just 15 sleds from 11 nations when women’s bobsled made its Olympic debut at Salt Lake City in 2002.

(Men’s bobsled, which has been in the Olympics since the first Winter Games in 1924, has a very narrow appeal after nearly a century. Only 33 sleds from 19 countries are on the preliminary start list for the world two-man event).

Numbers, of course, aren’t the only factor. Quality also makes a difference. And that seemed a problem when two "babies" at jumping worlds, 14-year-old Lucie Mikova and 12-year-old Natalie Dejmkova of the Czech Republic, both had bad training crashes on the 100-meter hill. And nine competitors were 15 or younger.

There were no such incidents in Friday’s competition, when the top athletes had jumps near 300 feet but there was a dramatic drop in quality between first and 10th places.

Van had jumps of 290 feet and 319 feet, 10 inches, the latter more than 10 feet longer than anyone else’s.

"I think it’s a step in the right direction," she said. "I think the competition went pretty well."

Vonn, meanwhile, won the downhill leg of the super combined but could not hold her .76-second advantage, as Riesch laid down by far the fastest slalom run in the field. She still leads Riesch by 159 points in the World Cup overall standings.

-- Philip Hersh