Ski jumping pioneer retires

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Ski jumper Anette Sagen, one of the most pioneering athletes in Norwegian history, has announced that she’s retiring from the sport she fought long and hard to take part in. Sagen will best be remembered for helping women break into the ranks of professional ski jumping.

Anette Sagen back on the ground. PHOTO: Sven Goll

Anette Sagen, after being the first jumper to officially fly off the Holmenkollen Ski Jump after it had been rebuilt for the Nordic world championships in 2011. Even then, though, she was upstaged by a male jumper. PHOTO: Sven Goll

They’re still facing snubs, with many women furious over some advertisements for this weekend’s upcoming Holmenkollen Ski Festival that stated the events get underway on Saturday. The women will be jumping on Friday.

“I would gladly have been able to start jumping without having to fight the fight we had,” Sagen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) this week. She led the battle to get ski jumping included as an internationally recognized and organized competitive sport for women, and part of the Olympics. Ironically, when women ski jumpers finally were allowed into the Olympics, Sagen was injured and couldn’t take part.

“It was tough at times,” Sagen recalled. “It’s no fun when you stand there as an 18- or 19-year-old and get hit with remarks like ‘you’re not allowed to jump here, are you crazy, you’re a girl.’ That was hard to swallow, and it was therefore I chose to fight as hard as I did. I’m not very good at tackling unfairness.”

Sagen became a front figure for women ski jumpers, both in Norway and internationally, taking on the powerful men who ran the international sports federations that in turn controlled the sport. They included Torbjorn Yggseth, who led the ski jumping division of the international skiing federation (FIS) at the time and, ultimately, Gerhard Heiberg of the International Olympic Committee.

Today, Sagen admits she envies the young, new women ski jumpers who don’t have to fight such battles any longer, although there are still the occasional snubs. “The only thing I really wanted to do was jump,” said Sagen, who comes from Mosjøen in north central Norway. “Nothing would be better than if I could start all over and be 15 years old again, and not have to fight.”

She has no regrets, though, and admits that while she still “loves the sport,” she’s lost the joy of competing. She won the national championships 12 times and took bronze at the first World Championships for women in 2009, but now lacks motivation, “and without that, I don’t have what’s needed to be the best. I don’t want to do this if I can’t be best.”

She will make one last ceremonial jump at Holmenkollen this weekend, though, during the break between the women’s two rounds of competition on Friday. Sagen was also granted the honour of being the first ski jumper to officially fly off the re-built Holmenkollen Ski Jump when it was new but even then, one of the male jumpers got a chance to actually jump off it before she did. It was another snub, but Sagen took it in stride. Now she says she hopes she’ll be remembered “as good, and as someone who did a lot for the sport.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund