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Raised largely in the Middle East, Corradini later became the mayor of Salt Lake City. Photos by Dan Campbell
Raised largely in the Middle East, Corradini later became the mayor of Salt Lake City. Photos by Dan Campbell

On Tuesday, for the first time ever, women from around the world will compete in ski-jumping at a Winter Olympics. They have a former Drew student to thank for that.

Deedee Corradini, who attended Drew in the early 1960s, later served two terms as the only female mayor in the history of Salt Lake City. But for nearly a decade now, as president of Women’s Ski Jumping USA, Corradini has been the driving force behind the struggle to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that women ski jumpers should be allowed to compete at the Winter Games. Their male counterparts, after all, have been competing for Olympic gold since the first Winter Games, in Chamonix, France, in 1924. Nearly a century later, ski jumping and Nordic Combined (which pairs cross-country skiing and ski jumping) were the only sports in the Winter or Summer Games that did not offer events for women.

On the day in April 2011 when the IOC announced that it was adding women’s ski jumping to the Winter Olympics, the American team was gathered in Corradini’s home in Park City, Utah, huddled around the dining room table while listening to a live press conference from London. “As soon as they said, ‘Women’s ski jumping,’ we all whooped in excitement,” Corradini recalls. “Almost just as fast there was dead silence. I cried. It was really more relief. It took a long time.”

The women’s struggle included an unsuccessful lawsuit brought against the Vancouver Organizing Committee (Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics) before the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Supreme Court. The women also had to cope with some less-evolved thinking from the sport’s leading authorities. In 2005, Gian-Franco Kasper, the president of the International Ski Federation and a member of the IOC, famously opined that he didn’t think women should ski jump because the sport “seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.”

“Like our uteruses were going to fall out,” Corradini deadpans.

Corradini, who was scheduled to arrive in Sochi last week, sounds confident that the U.S. women’s team is poised to make history in Russia. All five members of the team rank among the world’s top fifteen women jumpers, including Sarah Hendrickson, the 2013 world champion, and Lindsey Van, the 2009 world champion and a 16-time U.S. champion.

“We have tremendous possibilities for medals in Sochi,” Corradini says. “We’re hoping for at least one, if not two.”—Christopher Hann

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Watch: NBC will stream Women’s Ski Jumping live from Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 12:30 p.m. The NBC broadcast of the competition follows on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 5:30 p.m.