Ask any driven young athlete what their dream is and most likely you’ll hear, “I want represent my country in the Olympics.” To be an Olympic competitor is one of the highest accomplishments an athlete can achieve. But what if you were banned from such competition? “Ready To Fly” is an extraordinary documentary about just such an athlete and more. Lindsay Van and the women on the US Ski Jumping team have dealt with gender inequality in their sport for the last 18 years and chose to do something about it.
After years of practicing and competing Lindsay became the first Women’s World Ski Jumping Champion at the age of 24 years old in 2009. Yet her victory was bittersweet. Even though by distance she out-jumped many of the world’s best men jumpers she was not able to compete at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Though the Olympics were created to allow athletes to compete without the burden of politics, religion, or racism, the International Olympic Committee decided to forbid women from competing in ski jumping. It was the only Winter Olympic discipline that didn’t allow women. Why? It was argued that the sport did not have enough of a following and one guy was even quoted as saying that ski jumping is likely not good for women’s reproductive organs. Perhaps the best line in the film is Lindsay saying ” my future is in the hands of some old dude.” I would add an old, white, sexist, dude.
While the issue of gender inequality in sport may seem less significant these days with the passing of Title IX in 1972 it is still very much evident in women’s ski jumping and many women’s intercollegiate sports.
In a longitudinal study examining participation levels of females in intercollegiate sport, 2012 represents the highest number of female teams per school in history. However, according to the study there are about 16 times more female high school athletes than participation slots for females on the college level. The study speculates that the increase in participation levels in female athletes is one of the largest contributing factors of the enactment of Title IX, which is federal legislation that prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs that receive federal money. Other reasons might include that it is more widely accepted to embrace females as athletes, as well as an increase in media coverage. Whatever the cause and effect might be, women are becoming more dominate in sports.
Universal Sports highlighted a story on women’s ski jumping and their funding, or lack there of. In May of 2009 the US Ski Team and USSA decided to cut all funding for the highly competitive women’s ski jumping team. Yet even in the face of discrimination Lindsay Van still held her composure when asked about the budget cuts. After her first-ever FIS women’s ski jumping world championship, Lindsey Van of Park City said, “I was surprised with the decision the USSA made after such a successful season, but I understand budget constraints. USSA’s and their sponsors’ focus is on Olympic medals, and currently women’s jumping is not in the Olympics. I appreciate the support the USST has given us over the past three years and I was proud to represent my country. So yes, I was disappointed in the beginning, but it is what it is, and we have to move forward. Our team has overcome many obstacles before and this is just one more bump in the road. We are currently looking for private sponsors and trying to raise funds … Our goal still remains the same, despite our funding loss.” She is my kind of woman.
Despite all odds Lindsay Van and the other women of the US Women’s ski jumping team fought to get women’s ski jumping into the 2014 Sochi Olympics which will mark the first ever winter Olympics to represent men and women equally. The film tells the story of their amazing struggle and ultimate success.
Friday February 10th, today, will mark the world premiere of this touching and heroic film. I am extremely proud to be one of the many Executive Producers that helped make this film happen. In just a few hours I will attending the launch party and then will be gathered in a Salt Lake City venue to watch it again with my two children. One of the main reasons I chose to support this film is because of how my 11 year old daughter reacted to it after seeing the first time. She said “mom what happened to her is not fair!.” You are right Allie, it is not fair and this woman was brave enough to fight for what she believed in. May this film give all of us the courage to stand up for what we believe in and never, ever give up.
To learn more about how YOU can help support the film please visit the Ready to Fly Website. No really….. visit it. There is much you can do. Go see the film, buy the DVD, help get the film to a local theater, help sell it to a major network for lots of money and more.
Jacki Zehner and Perry Kleeman