As Dave Barry explained about ski jumping, "This exciting sport got its start as a symptom of mental illness in Northern climes such as Norway and Sweden, where it is cold and dark and there is very little to do except pay taxes." The centerpiece of the ancient "Wide World of Sports" opening (video above, 0:13 - 0:17) was a horrific ski jumping crash used to exemplify "the agony of defeat."
As I mentioned awhile ago regarding urban bicycle riding, our society is generally progressing toward greater and greater safety, but some fields seem largely exempt from safety scrutiny for reasons of politics and fashion: cycling is one, and female sports are another.
Since there isn't much disparate treatment by sex left anymore (heck, the Summer Olympics have added women's boxing), in the usual You Go Girl media cheerleading we wind up with lots and lots of disparate impact articles about less than galvanizing topics such as the feminist crisis of women at Harvard Business School blowing off their homework to go on hot dates with eligible bachelors.
But, Olympic ski jumping really did have disparate treatment. Women weren't allowed to ski jump in the Winter Olympics ... until the 2014 Sochi games! The New York Times Magazine celebrates in the traditional Patriotic Feminist Chauvinist manner that should be familiar from all the other American women's Olympic team fads of recent decades. Mireille Silcoff's article focuses on the American superstar, Sarah Hendrickson (19-years-old and 94 pounds):
First there was the struggle to make women’s ski jumping an Olympic sport. Now the American team just wants to win.
... It has been a decade-long fight to get women’s ski jumping into the Olympics — it was one of the last restricted winter sports — and [Sarah] Hendrickson’s outsize talent, a natural ability honed since age 7 that far surpasses that of most male jumpers, was like a banner to parade at the opening ceremony. You said we can’t? Well, look at this.
... The resistance to women in ski jumping makes frustratingly little sense when you recognize what female jumpers can do. “The gap between men and women in ski jumping is so small, you can’t believe it,” Bernardi told me. “Every year, with girls like Sarah, the girls are flying better, better, better.” Today, he said, there might not actually be another sport in which, at the superelite level, the differences in male and female capability are so minimal. “Maybe there is something with horses? Equestre? But even there it is half the horse.”
Van said she believed that this is also the reason women have been excluded from the top competitions in the sport for so long. “If women can jump as far as men, what does that do to the extreme value of this sport?” she asks. “I think we scared the ski-jumping [establishment].”
Ski-jumping is part of Nordic skiing (as opposed to Alpine skiing), and we all know how male chauvinist Nordic cultures are.
There is so little difference between women and men in the sport because lightness and technique count just as much as muscle and power.
But, if you actually read the article, it turns subversive, although, judging from the reader comments, almost nobody notices that.
The story of America's best hope for gold, 19-year-old, 94-pound Sarah Hendrickson, turns out to be a horrorshow.
Hendrickson is recovering from a training crash in Germany. She gives the reporter her smart phone with the video of her crash on it, but won't watch it herself.
On the couch next to me, Hendrickson clutched her cardigan sleeves, yawning loudly to miss the horrible clatter of her 94-pound body landing at more than 70 miles an hour on the ground where the jump hill flattens, the area that means you’ve gone too far.
Hendrickson’s surgeon calls her knee injury “the terrible triad, plus one”: the A.C.L. ruptured completely, the M.C.L. pulled right off the tibia and severe damage was done to both the lateral and medial meniscus.
Within a few months, in 2013 five female top ski jumpers suffered serious knee injuries and had to withdraw for long recovery periods, thus putting their good chances at the Olympics in Sochi at risk. On 12 January 2013, Daniela Iraschko, the 2011 World Champion, fell in Hinterzarten and withdrew, Anja Tepeš suffered a serious injury on 17 March in Oslo,2013 Cup de France winner Espiau suffered a knee injury in June and on 12 August 2013 Alexandra Pretorius, two-times women's Grand Prix winner, suffered a serious knee injury in Courchevel. On 21 August 2013, Sarah Hendrickson, the 2013 World Champion, suffered a knee ligament damage in Oberstdorf.
Increasingly, women are prioritizing lightness as well. ... as the reedlike Hendrickson explained to me, it’s only a matter of time before extreme skinniness becomes the norm on the women’s side as well.
Hendrickson separated a small portion of her tofu curry from the rest and cut it into pea-size pieces. It was hard to tell whether she was dividing her lunch to encourage herself to eat more or less. “I don’t like the feeling of being full,” she said. “I hate it.” She ate the cut-up pieces, then asked to take her soup, rice and remaining tofu home in a doggie bag. She looked at my nearly cleaned plate and asked whether I wanted a doggie bag too, as if the few morsels left could possibly make for a meal.
Earlier in the season, I watched her lose her usual composure in a hotel lobby when she realized that Bernardi hadn’t told her she could eat dinner early. “You said 8, but I heard some teams got to eat at 6!” she said, stamping a bunny-slippered foot. “You know I hate eating late! You know I never eat late!”
Since 2004, Federation Internationale de Ski has implemented rules to address concerns about eating disorders among [male] ski jumpers. ...
Hendrickson’s coaches had been concerned enough about her strength to ask her to build “a little more body mass.” She was encouraged to begin eating snacks before bed, and they also wanted her to drink protein shakes. ...
Throughout this first week back in training in Park City, her teammates suggested that Hendrickson’s rise was causing tension among them. “Sarah’s different than before,” Hughes said. ... And then we have to go through all this stuff on the team, like, ‘Is Sarah happy today, or is she going to start screaming?’”
“Let’s just put it this way, I know I get cranky when I am under a certain weight,” Jerome said. “And with Sarah, people are just walking on eggshells.” ...
Hendrickson’s biggest obstacle [to recovery from her injuries] now, she said, is strength. “I really need to work on eating enough, even if, because I am not as active, my mind is kind of like, ‘Well, you don’t need food,’ or, ‘I’m not hungry.’ So that’s one of my battles — I just have to eat.”
For the first six weeks, a physiotherapist brought Hendrickson a smoothie every day at 3 p.m. “And I don’t know what gets put in these smoothies,” she said, laughing. “Because if I made them, they’d probably have half the calories.”
Postscript: November 22, 2013
Coach Paolo Bernardi quit the United States women’s ski jumping team on Thursday after this article went to press. “I resign for personal reasons, and it was a hard decision,” Bernardi wrote on his Facebook page, in a post that has since been deleted. “... I hope to find another team soon that can give me the motivation to start again.” In an email to The Times, Bernardi said the reason for his quitting was “deeper” than only Sarah Hendrickson’s setback, but “of course has a lot to do with Sarah.”
If you read the article closely with an open mind, you might come to the conclusion that the conventional wisdom is wrong: Combine the brutal injuries with ski jumping's incentives to become anorexic and this sounds like a terrible sport to encourage American girls to take up.
In fact, a remarkable percentage of the best New York Times articles are like that. The NYT employs smart, hardworking reporters. If you read their output closely enough and they often wind up undermining The Narrative.