LINDSEY VAN would appear to be a Winter Olympic athlete. She wears a helmet and warm clothing and competes in the snow on skis. Last week at the Nordic World Ski Championships in the Czech Republic, Van won the first women's world title in ski jumping, a victory that would customarily make Van the gold medal favorite in her event at the 2010 Games next February in Vancouver. Except that her event is not part of the Olympic program.
In 2006 the International Olympic Committee voted against including women's ski jumping for 2010. Van is among 10 jumpers from six countries who have sued the Vancouver organizers, arguing they're violating Canadian gender discrimination laws. A hearing is scheduled for April 20, although it is unclear how the IOC or Vancouver officials will respond if the jumpers win their suit. "I'm cautiously optimistic," Van said. But the 24-year-old also said, "It's frustrating every day dealing with this sport." While women's ski jumping was left out of the 2010 Games, the hipper skiercross was added.
Van's victory was in the best tradition of the sport. Fighting swirling winds and intermittent snow squalls, Van sailed 97.5 meters on her second (and final) jump of the competition to win the gold medal over Ulrike Graessler of Germany. The jump was 3.5 meters longer than any other competitor's and came after Van had started with a weak 89-meter jump in the trial round. "It's definitely the high point of my career," said Van, who started ski jumping at age seven in Utah and has won 13 U.S. titles. She had been slowed this season by a bone bruise in her left knee that forces her to limit training jumps.
Van was not the only U.S. athlete on the medal stand at the Nordic worlds. Todd Lodwick, a four-time Olympian who retired after the 2006 Games but returned to training last summer, won golds in both Nordic combined events. Bill Demong took a bronze in one of them, giving the U.S. four medals through eight of the 20 events—equaling the U.S. total in Nordic sports in all previous worlds and Olympics.
And unlike Van, Lodwick and Demong are assured of competing for more medals next year in Vancouver.