Monday, March 2, 2009

Norway Dominates Nordic Skiing Championships

This past weekend the 2009 FIS Nordic World Skiing Championships wrapped up in Liberec, Czech Republic. Held every second year, the Nordic World Championship consists of various cross-country skiing and ski jumping events. Of the 61 nations competing, Norway has been the clear leader in medals across the board. As of Friday morning, Norway lead the medal count with 9 medals including 4 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze. The US comes in at second with 5 medals.

Norway’s Nordic skiers are celebrities in the their home country, and while gold medal winners like Petter Northug and Ola Vigen Hattestad have gotten a lot of press attention, the stand-out star of this year’s competition is a ski jumper who’s bringing home the bronze. Anette Sagen, 24, from Mosjøen in Northern Norway, is widely considered one of the best female ski jumpers of all time. In Norway she’s known not only as a stand-out athlete but as the reluctant figurehead of the movement to recognize women’s ski jumping as an official international sport.

Both within Norway and on the international stage women’s ski jumping has faced opposition from people didn’t think women could compete at the same level as men, and organizations who didn’t think the sport would generate enough popular interest. Sagen began making headlines in 2004 during a Junior World Championship. Sagen took first place, but because the women’s competition was not part of the official program, she was not awarded a medal or given a podium ceremony like the male contestants. Just weeks later Sagen made headlines again she was denied the opportunity to compete in ski flying (ski jumping off of extra high hills) at Vikersundsbakken in Norway. Officials eventually relented and Sagen jumped for a record-setting 174.5 meters.

In the years since, Sagen has often found herself pushed into the spotlight of an intense public debate about equality in sports. Sagen has appeared very reluctant to assume sucha central role in the discussion, always crediting her fellow athletes and supporters and once even trying to withdraw from the debate altogether.

In 2006 it was announced that women’s ski jumping would be included in the 2009 World Championships. Coming in 3rd in the historic competition behind American Lindsey Van and German Ulrike Grässler, Sagen’s bronze is seen in Norway as a major victory not only for the country, but also for equality.

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