U.S. women's ski jumping team fails to qualify for Beijing Olympics Women's ski jumpers fought for more than a decade to compete in the Olympics. Now the U.S. women's team has failed to qualify for Beijing.

U.S. women's ski jumpers won't compete in the Beijing Olympics. They failed to qualify

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

American women will not be ski jumping at the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Women were barred for decades from ski jumping competitions and led the fight to shatter that barrier years ago. They won the right to compete in the Sochi Olympics in 2014. But in a major disappointment, Americans failed to qualify this year. NPR's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: When Jessica Jerome was a girl, ski jumping was her obsession.

JESSICA JEROME: It consumed everything.

MANN: This was early in the 2000s. Jerome was talented enough. Her jumps were longer than some of the boys. But she and other women were frozen out of most competitions.

JEROME: You know, I didn't get to do what the guys did. My dad went and bought a "Nonprofit For Dummies" book.

MANN: Working from their kitchen tables, women athletes and their parents cobbled together a ski jumping team that began competing around the world. At the same time, they lobbied sports organizations and joined lawsuits demanding a place at the Winter Olympics. Opposition was fierce in the early days, especially from sports officials in Europe, who said women jumpers weren't good enough for the Olympics.

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GIAN FRANCO KASPER: If you have a field now in some ladies' competitions with, let's say, 30 girls, four or five of them really jump.

MANN: I interviewed Gian Franco Kasper in 2005, when he led the International Ski Federation. Kasper, who died last summer, argued women were just too fragile to fly off those big jumps.

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KASPER: Jumping down about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.

MANN: But Jessica Jerome and the other women kept jumping. And the Americans kept getting better.

JEROME: 2012, we were the best team in the world. We won what's called the Nations Cup.

MANN: It was an exciting time. And then in 2014, the world's women ski jumpers finally broke through.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Sports history was made today at the Winter Olympics in Sochi for the first time.

MANN: After years of frustration, Jessica Jerome made it to the Olympics. She was the top American finisher for the women that year and spoke with NPR after her jump.

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JEROME: All the girls from all the countries are just smiling.

MANN: It was a victory for women's sport. But in the years since, American women have often struggled.

(CHEERING)

MANN: When the team arrived in Lake Placid, N.Y., a few weeks ago for national trials, they'd fallen behind in World Cup competitions. They'd scored so few points, they hadn't yet qualified a single athlete for the Beijing Games. With time running out, the women rocketed through the air, jumping one by one.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Oh, such a great flight. It's past the critical point. The longest jump of the day, so far.

MANN: Anna Hoffman from Madison, Wis., finished in first place. But soon after the Lake Placid competition, there was another setback. The remaining qualifying events were cancelled because of the pandemic. And that made it official - Hoffman and the other U.S. women jumpers won't go to Beijing.

ANNA HOFFMAN: Obviously, it's disappointing because all of us want to be Olympians. But the thing is we're a developing, growing team, and we're more focused on the depth of our team and the long shot of it.

MANN: Jessica Jerome, who competed in Sochi, says it's heartbreaking the U.S. women will be sidelined this year. She believes the team didn't pivot fast enough from the fight for inclusion to the nuts-and-bolts work of recruiting and supporting young athletes.

JEROME: There was so much focus on kind of getting to this end goal, which was the Olympics, that once we got there, everybody was really tired.

MANN: Jerome says the American women jumping now are talented. But the U.S. hasn't kept pace with women athletes in Germany, Japan and Norway.

JEROME: They're just not at the level that the Olympics are at. It just keeps getting better and better.

MANN: The women's team has made changes - merging with a larger sports organization, developing a better national recruiting program. But people close to the sport - coaches, boosters and athletes - say it will be tough to build fundraising and momentum without any presence in Beijing. Jessica Jerome says her one consolation this year will be the sight of women jumpers from other countries flying through the air and standing on the Olympic podium.

JEROME: You know, we were kind of this ragtag group of girls who were constantly told no. So when I watch the Olympics this year, like, I'm still going to see my friends there.

MANN: Unfortunately, she says, the lineup won't include any of her American friends.

Brian Mann, NPR News, Lake Placid, N.Y.

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