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As new sports are added, women ski jumpers left out in cold by IOC

Jessica Jerome is exhausted. The Park City, Utah, resident wakes up early to teach ski lessons to youngsters. She's working 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. shifts at events at the Sundance Film Festival to earn some cash

And she's trying to squeeze in training for her sport.

In a just world, Jerome -- the reigning national champion in ski jumping -- would be in the same position that Kelly Clark and Lindsey Vonn and other top American winter athletes are in. She would be preparing to compete in 16 days in Vancouver at the Winter Olympics.

Except that the old men that run the Olympics say that Jerome doesn't deserve a spot in the Games. Though men's ski jumping has been an Olympic sport since the first Winter Olympics in 1924, women ski jumpers have been denied the ability to compete. New sports added to the Olympics must include both male and female participants. But that rule does not grandfather in older sports. Ski jumping is now the only Olympic discipline not to admit women.

"It's almost comical," Jerome said. "When I hear what some of these people say, my first question is, 'Do you have a daughter?' And my second question is, 'Do you have a soul?'"

Jerome was born in 1987, 15 years after the passage of Title IX. Yet she's the victim of blatant gender discrimination.

Women ski jumpers tried to change things, first petitioning the IOC for inclusion. When that failed they sued the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the right to participate. The case was heard last year and in a decision handed down last summer, the court agreed that the women were being discriminated against but ruled that VANOC was powerless to go against the IOC's wishes. The decision was upheld in appeals court and last month the Canadian Supreme Court refused to hear the case, extinguishing the ski jumpers' last flicker of Olympic hope.

During their battle they heard comments that seemed to come from another era, such as the one from Gian-Franco Kasper, the head of the International Ski Federation. A few years ago, he said, "Ski jumping is just too dangerous for women ... [It] seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view."

They've heard IOC president Jacques Rogge belittle their efforts. They've watched other sports cut in front of them in the battle for inclusion.

Rogge has paid nominal lip service to achieving Olympic gender equity during his tenure but it is on his watch that softball was dumped from the Olympics -- forced to be tied to a male sport (baseball) that is a far different athletic experience for its athletes. Rogge continues to preside over an overwhelmingly male IOC membership.

He has defended his anti-ski jumping stance by claiming there aren't enough participants worldwide, saying "We did not want the medals to be watered down by too little a pool of very good jumpers. There was not enough quality at the time."

Yet the IOC turned around and added ski cross to the Vancouver Games. That's a sport that -- at the time of its inclusion, according to statistics provided by the Women's Ski Jumping Team -- had fewer participants from fewer countries. Sure, ski cross is a groovy X-game sport, but the original extreme sport, ski jumping, still has plenty of value.

Rogge's logic has a major hole in it: the inclusion of a sport in the Olympics is a guarantee for growth. That's what happened in pole vault after the women's event was added in 2000.

In contrast, exclusion is a sure recipe for disaster. Jerome is already seeing that. "Girls I've been skiing with for almost 10 years are saying they might quit next year," she said. "If the Olympics had happened, they'd have incentive to keep doing it."

It's too difficult to go it alone. Last summer, the U.S. Ski Team withdrew all funding from the sport. Visa -- which also championed female pole-vaulters a decade ago -- remains the sponsor of the team.

And athletes like Jerome find themselves bussing tables for visiting filmgoers to try to help finance her ability to compete.

"I don't have a stable source of income," she said.

Jerome hasn't decided yet if she will stay with her sport through another Olympic cycle and face another exhausting battle for inclusion at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Her more immediate decision is whether she'll go to Vancouver as a spectator next month. Her boyfriend, cross-country skier Andy Newell will be competing, as will several other friends.

"But it feels like I'm walking down the street in the rain and all my friends are warm and dry inside, and I'm not allowed in," Jerome said. "It feels like a party I wasn't invited to."

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