“Is it a bird? Is it a plane?”
I took some skiing lessons back when I was at university, on the dry slope, but my sole experience of doing it on actual snow was a one-day trip: the real thing is considerably colder, faster and a great deal harder, let me assure you. So, the prospect of whizzing down a ramp, going off the end at 50-60 mph, and flying through the air for the length of a football field or thereabout… Well, anyone who does ski-jumping has my respect – and all the more so when, like the women in this documentary, as well as fighting gravity, they have to go up against the (literal) old boys’ network of the International Olympic Committee, who had succeeded in keeping women’s ski-jumping off the program, making it the sole “men only” sport in the winter games.
The documentary focuses, in particular, on Lindsey Van, who was the first ever women’s world champion, and was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the, IOC to force them to include ski-jumping in the 2010 Vancouver games. The judge agreed there was discrimination, but refused to make the IOC comply – ironic that, going into the Olympics, Van actually held the record for the longest jump on the hill where the games took place. Lindsey briefly quit the pastime to which she had dedicated her life, in disgust at that decision.
However, she couldn’t stay away for very long, and to date has gone through four knee surgeries and a ruptured spleen in pursuit of her sport, while also struggling to get sufficient funding, in part due to the lack of Olympic acceptance. But the IOC agreed to consider ski-jumping again for the 2014 games in Russia – providing the 2011 women’s world championships are deemed of acceptable standard. Will the fly-girls get their day? Or as one of their former vice-presidents hints, could the committee bear a grudge against the sport, for the embarrassment of the lawsuit with which they were targeted?
To be honest, there’s no particular drama here, since a quick Google will tell you that, yes, women’s ski-jumping is indeed in the 2014 edition, which start next week [making it particularly appropriate to write about this film now]. However, it’s still a solid and generally engrossing documentary, about a sport that certainly deserves more coverage than it has received, though this seems rather too reliant on over-dramatic music, and Nyad’s narration is unremarkable. It’s at its best when not actually on the slopes, presenting Van and her team-mates as people; never mind the jumping, perhaps the most heroic thing is her donation of bone marrow to save the life of someone whom she doesn’t even know. Her low-key approach to that can only be admired.
I’m not a great winter sports person, and my interest in the upcoming Olympics is generally likely to be light. But I think I might just tune in on February 11, and witness history in the making. I’d recommend checking this film out as well, because it’ll probably inspire you in a similar way – though you still won’t be seeing me on a chair-lift any time soon!
Dir: William A. Kerig
Star: Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome, Alissa Johnson, Diana Nyad (narrator)