Every December and January, Germans are glued to their televisions watching men literally fly through the sky. But it’s nothing to do with Santa Claus; instead they’re enjoying the jewel in ski jumping’s crown, the Four Hills Tournament – or Vierschanzentournee in German.
Explaining the significance of the event to those not au fait with ski jumping can be quite a challenge — especially the reason why women don’t take part — but here goes.
The Four Hills Tournament is actually four ski jumping events spread over a week-and-a-half at four venues: Oberstdorf (December 28, 29) and Garmisch Partenkirchen (December 31, January 1) are the two “hills” in Germany, followed by Innsbruck (January 2, 3) and Bischofshofen (January 5, 6) in Austria.
The jumper with the most points for style and distance over all the four events becomes the Four Hills champion and is widely feted. The German football Bundesliga’s mid-season break means the tournament receives extra attention, although the 100,000 fans who usually turn up must stay home this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As usual, women jumpers will not be involved at the 69th Four Hills tournament. In other sports, the pinnacle of competition often has a women’s equivalent — but ski jumping never has.
“We are fighting for it. We have already achieved a lot in recent years,” German Olympic ski jump silver medalist Katharina Althaus told “go!d,” the magazine of the charity Deutsche Sporthilfe in a recent interview.
“It’s all taking a bit longer than we would like. I don’t see any reason why there shouldn’t also be a Four Hills Tournament for women,” she said.
Yes, there has been a women’s ski jumping World Cup season since 2011 and yes, the women competitors generally jump on smaller hills than the men, but there appears to be no major reason that the sport shouldn’t create a variant of the Four Hills for women.
“From an organizational point of view, it’s probably not very easy to sort out — there’s a lot of effort behind the Four Hills Tournament,” said Karl Geiger, Germany’s top male ski jumper who has recovered from COVID-19 in time to compete this year. “There would have to be a good concept, but why shouldn’t it be possible to have it for women?”
The International Ski Federation (FIS), the world governing body for the sport, did not respond to requests for comment.
Rough deal for women skiers
The prize money at women’s competitions is also lower than for the men. And a look at the calendar so far this World Cup season shows women ski jumpers have had another rough deal.
Their season-opening event in Lillehammer, Norway in early December was canceled due to COVID-19. By contrast, the men have already held three World Cup meets. The women finally got underway in Ramsau in Austria in mid-December, but will now have to wait until the end of January to jump again in Slovenia.
Two planned events for the women in Japan earlier in January were also axed because of the pandemic. The men will have competed in 11 World Cup events, including the Four Hills, by the time the women have held two.
Confused? Well, wait until you hear about the intricacies of men’s top-level ski jumping.
Progress is being made
Just because someone wins the ultra-prestigious Four Hills Tournament doesn’t mean he is the annual ski jumping World Cup champion.
The Four Hills forms part of the World Cup schedule running throughout the Northern Hemisphere winter, meaning there is quite often a Four Hills champion and a different overall World Cup champion who has slogged it out for months rather than just a week and a bit. Yet sometimes, it’s the Four Hills champion who is best remembered by passionate fans.
That’s without mentioning December’s sky-flying world championships, where the men jumped off a bigger hill than usual, or February’s Nordic skiing world championships which include the ski jumping world championships, which are separate to the similarly named World Cup season. And by the way, this year, like the Four Hills, the world championships will also be taking place in Oberstdorf.
Women ski jumpers will be at those world championships, and will also compete in the Winter Olympics in Bejing in 2022. This season’s events include a first women’s Nordic combined — half cross-country skiing and half ski jumping — World Cup and world championship.
So, progress is being made, but it’s slow. While ski jumping fans in the German-speaking world go wild for the Four Hills Tournament from their sofas over the coming days, they should spare a thought for the women jumpers also sitting at home.