Celebrating Title IX: Progress for women at the Olympic level

The U.S. Ski Team has led the charge in advancing women in sport

Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins signed the Ski Equal Team Letter in May 2021, which was sent to Tiger Shaw, CEO of U.S. Ski and Snowboard. The cross-country team has been leading the way in gender equity in World Cup skiing.
Alessandro Trovati/AP photo
Celebrating Title IX

The 50th year of Title IX has seen several ski stories emerge pertaining to gender equity — some good and some bad. FIS cut women’s Nordic combined for the 2026 Olympics, but also motioned to incentivize nations to add female coaches to staffs in cross country skiing in addition to legislating equal distances for men and women.

The U.S. Ski Team has led the charge for the advancement of women in snow sports. U.S. Ski and Snowboard submitted the proposal to add a number of course access bibs per team for female service staff only, “with the wish to encourage more National Ski Federations to invest into the education of female staff in the ski service field in cross-country skiing.”

U.S. Ski and Snowboard cross-country program director Chris Grover joined Rachel Perkins on the Nordic Nation podcast to discuss the proposal as well as the work being done to grow female involvement in Nordic skiing.

Grover noted that very few women occupy coaching roles at the World Cup level, and on the tech side, “it’s even fewer.”

“We felt like we needed to move the needle immediately,” he told Perkins.

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The idea for the proposal came out of the gender equity working group, consisting of Grover, Aspen Olympian Hailey Swirbul, Matt Whitcomb, Eileen Carey, Ellen Adams and John Farra, which has existed for just over a year.

At first, the idea of asking nations to allocate a certain percentage of staff positions for women was discussed. Grover said that “was fraught with problems,” noting that it “really takes a lot of oversight by the organizers, the FIS, the jury to make sure that you register the right way and actually bring the people that you say you’re going to bring and that they’re actually the people on the course.”

Additionally, while many countries have women in the capacities of PTs, massage therapists and physicians, the goal for the working group was to get women on course in a coaching or tech role.

When Grover presented the groups eventual proposal regarding bibs for female techs and coaches, he was pleasantly surprised to discover FIS had been thinking along the same lines.

“Which was great,” he told Perkins. “They recognized the issue as well.”

It received universal support, according to Grover, who is fully aware the proposal will provide ski-rich nations like Norway, who are able to hire female staff immediately, with yet another advantage.

“We realized, that we were actually in a way, from a strategic competitive way — in terms of access to the course, ability to test more product, ability to help athletes test more skis — we were actually kind of shooting ourselves in the foot with this proposal a little bit,” he told Perkins.

“But at the same time, we decided it doesn’t matter — it’s worth it. We need to push ourselves to be better, we need to push all these countries to be better. If we don’t start now, when are we going to start this process.”

Grover’s team has been working to apply for grants as the funding arms race becomes even more paramount.

“The idea for us is to bring women, develop women, (and) give them those experiences on the World Cup, but it’s not to necessarily replace, say, one of our World Cup technicians whose been there for five years,” Grover told Perkins.

“We still want that knowledge, we want that experience, we just want to be developing more women simultaneously. So, we want to be able to do both, so we need to find a little bit more money in some key places.” 

Domestically, U.S. cross-country skiing has enacted other initiatives to promote female coaches. Gender equity “is a huge goal of ours,” Grover told to Perkins. The team’s last three hires have been women and director of development Bryan Fish has achieved gender parity in the Regional Elite Group, National Elite Group and U16 camp structures. The team’s international U18 staff have even been all-female coached at times, according to Grover.

In 2019, the Women Ski Coaches Association (WSCA) launched “in pursuit of gender equity in coaching.” Founder Maria Stuber (who started her coaching career as the Nordic Program Director for the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club), one of seven female head cross-country ski coaches across all NCAA divisions, told Fasterskier in 2019, “Develop, retain, and advance,” in paraphrasing the objectives of the WSCA.

“Bringing in more women that want to be ski coaches, turning them into really successful ski coaches, keeping them in ski coaching and helping them find really rewarding careers whether that means doing exactly what they want to do or working for people who are going to value them,” she continued to Rachel Perkins in 2019.

On its website, WSCA includes “USSS Gender Equity Transitional Working Group Approval at USSS Congress,” and “marked increase of women coaches at JN’s, NCAA’s and U.S. Nationals.

Equal distances for men and women

Another monumental move made at the FIS Cross-Country Committee (CCC) on May 18 was the decision to have men and women race equal distances. The CCC voted 57% in favor of equal distances, to be implemented for the upcoming World Cup season as well as U23, Junior World Championships and Youth Olympic Games.

The FIS press release stated “the main argument to vote for equal distances was that there should not be any question whether women were capable of racing the same distances as men, as they prove that they physically are capable of doing so already,” and “the main argument against was the time that women need to cover the same distance as men and the effective TV time.” 

“I’m actually shocked at how fast the movement was, because FIS is not always known for very fast movement on things sometimes,” Grover told Perkins.

“Some people were very happy and some were strictly against racing equal distances,” FIS Cross-Country Race Director Pierre Mignerey told FIS media.

“That opinions spread in both directions is not unusual, as the decision really impacts what the community was used to until now.”

The debate over equal distances certainly isn’t novel and not everyone — even female athletes — were in favor of the move.

NRK reported that in the annual World Cup athlete survey of 114 athletes from 25 different countries, each with an average of six years of World Cup experience, 73% of athletes — and 88% of female athletes — answered “no” when asked whether men and women should have the same distances.

“I’m not in favor of the proposal,” Norwegian star Heidi Weng told NRK.

“We spend more time on the same distance and are then out longer than the guys are. So I hope this is not going to happen.”

In 2021, Jason Albert analyzed the debate over equal distances. St. Michael’s University head coach Molly Peters claimed even the scientific premise behind different distances wasn’t being followed.

“We used to hear that we’re trying to equalize the time on course and we want people to have the same race experience – which is based around time,” Peters told Albert.

“The current model of racing, where women generally race 5-kilometers less than men, offers completely different race experiences for men and women.”

University of Colorado head coach Jana Weinberger told Albert, “When I was a competitive athlete, I was happy women skied shorter distances, and it never crossed my mind that we should, or that I wanted to, ski the same distance. I was solely focused on competing against the women I raced, as opposed to racing the same distance as men. I never felt that racing a shorter distance was a sexist decision.” Weinberger added that when she’s spoken with her athletes “the strong majority did not want to race the men’s distances.”

“For them, it was not a matter of; I can’t race that far, or, the men race farther because they are stronger, but more from the standpoint that I like racing the distances we currently have and am focused on racing women,” she said.

In May of 2021, college coaches, current and former Olympians and Nordic center directors signed the Ski Equal Petition, a letter to Tiger Shaw, CEO of U.S. Ski and Snowboard as well as the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee requesting equal distances.

United States Olympic Committee recognizes Title IX at June Assembly

Fighting for women is a priority of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), too. The USOPC recognized the half-century celebration of the landmark bill at its 2022 U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Assembly on June 23.

“Fifty years ago today, the world of sport in America took a monumental step forward,” said USOPC chair Susanne Lyons in her Leadership General Address.

“Many of you here are too young to remember what things were like before Title IX. Sadly, I’m not one of them,” her speech continued.

“I was in middle school at the time, and I can tell you the opportunities for young women to participate in sports and to advance their education with sports scholarships were minuscule compared to what is available today.”

Lyons added that Title IX was “a game-changer and, obviously, the progress must continue.”

She continued in her address, stating, “But on this anniversary day, I’d like to thank those of you here for all that you have done to move women’s sports forward, pushing past old barriers and stepping through new doors.”

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