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The Olympic Sport That's Not Playing Fair

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With 22 competition-ending accidents recorded so far at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in Sochi (where half pipe, moguls, slopestyle, and other competitions are being held), and 16 of those involving women, it may be time to consider that female athletes competing in ski and snowboard slopestyle need their own course to help them perform their best, most badass tricks and prevent injury.

While it may be hard to swallow in this day and age, it's not without precedence. Women in downhill skiing compete on a shorter, less difficult course, and when it comes to ski jumping, women are only allowed to jump on the smaller of two hills. 

"There's no real argument where women can say, 'Oh, we can do what the guys can do,' when it comes to something this physical. It's not physically possible with the way women's knees, hips, and muscles are built,” says Kristi Leskinen, a retired free skier who is one of the female pioneers in the sport. “There are studies that show women get more concussions than men. Also, our ligaments are looser. Women are not the same as men, and it's crazy to say we are." 

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Complicating things is that the jumps in Sochi are bigger than they've been in any other games before (the small jump is about 75 feet and the large one is about 90 feet). If some women, like Canada's Spencer O'Brien and U.S. slopestyle skier Devin Logan (pictured above falling during a run), who recently won a silver medal at her first Winter Games, are hitting the bigger jump, then others, who are less equipped and more intimidated by the bigger obstacles, may feel forced to take on more than they can handle just to be included in the running for a podium finish.

"Having both options—the 75- and 90-foot hills—means male and female athletes can hit whatever jumps they want, which is good in some ways but bad in others," Leskinen says. "If you want to win, you have no choice but to hit the large jump for the bigger score. Someone like Devin can do it because at 175 pounds, she's a bit heavier than her peers, which helps her carry more speed into the jumps. The girl who weighs 110 pounds won't be able to clear the jumps, though."

If you were to ask Logan about making a women-specific course, she might thoroughly disagree. "We should be able to showcase our sports on the big jumps," she told the New York Times. However Leskinen, who's been doing research on this subject for a few years, says that when you ask female athletes how they feel in private, the answers change: In her survey of 90 athletes asking what's the ideal jump to land the best, most technical tricks, women said 55 feet and men said 69 feet.

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“That's a massive 20-percent difference. But women won't admit it because they don't want to look weak or scared,” she says, arguing that it is actually much weaker to not stand up for yourself and acknowledge that you are simply built differently than men. "But we're still out there and that, in itself, makes us more badass, so cut us some slack.”

Do you think that slopestyle should offer a different course for women? Let us know what you think in the comments below or Tweet us @Shape_Magazine!


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