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Steamboat Magazine

Title IX

12/08/2022 08:00AM ● By Casey Hopkins
(Photo: Jaelin Kauf performs a backflip iron cross in Whistler, British Columbia.)

Steamboat Springs, CO - The fight for gender equality has been long and arduous in the United States, and much progress has been made over the years. But how far do we have yet to go, especially in the realm of winter sports?

On June 23, 1972, Title IX of the Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Title XI allowed women to excel at sports they hadn’t previously had the chance to play. It created a snowball effect, increasing the number of female 
sports in the winter Olympic Games from 12 to 23 between 1972 and 1992, according to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. On top of that, a study by the Women’s Sports Foundation found that girls’ high school sports participation and collegiate sport participation has jumped more than  – 1,000% and 500%, respectively.

But the dramatic improvement in numbers doesn’t mean the fight for equality is stagnant. On June 24, the International Olympic Committee ruled that women’s Nordic Combined will not be included in the 2026 Olympics in Milano-Cortina, Italy.

“That’s definitely a place where gender equality could have been achieved on an Olympic platform,” says freestyle Olympic skier Olivia Giaccio, who lived in Steamboat for close to two years before making the U.S. Olympic freestyle ski team. “I think generally in the sport that I’m in, in moguls, I’m thankful that it’s been very equal as a whole, in terms of prize money, how the events are run, the venues we compete on – it’s all been very equal from the start, especially compared to other sports. But essentially the place where we do see gender bias most in our sport is in jumps – how some men perceive that women can’t execute jumps as well as men. That’s something I’ve personally tried to change. I’ve tried to push the envelope of the difficulty  of jumps women can achieve in competition.”

In early January, Giaccio became the first woman to land a Cork 1080, a trick where the athlete completes three rotations in the air, one of which is off-axis, in competition at a World Cup stop in Tremblant, Canada. 

Jaelin Kauf, who also spent about six years living and training in Steamboat, won the silver medal in freestyle women’s moguls at the 2022 Beijing Games.

“I’ve been pretty lucky growing up and privileged in sport because of Title IX. I’ve always had equal opportunity and access to sport,” Kauf says. “I never really considered growing up that I couldn’t really succeed in sports because of my gender. I think I’ve been very fortunate to grow up in a generation of women that have had the opportunity and access to sports that we have, that previous generations didn’t grow up with.”

The Women’s Sports Foundation reports that three million more high school sport opportunities have been available for girls since the introduction of Title IX, while women in collegiate sports now make up 44% of all NCAA athletes, compared to 15% pre-Title IX.

Additionally, professional cross-country skiing is seeing an increase of females in their ranks. Earlier this year, U.S. Ski and Snowboard submitted a proposal to the International Ski Federation cross-country committee to increase the number of athletes per team per competition to encourage nations to develop and utilize female coaches and technicians on the World Cup circuit. The committee also approved setting the same race distances for both men and women next season, with a 57% vote in favor of the change.

While adult female athletes continue to push the envelope to help narrow the gender gap, Kauf feels a responsibility to the young people who look up to her as a role model. “Trying to set an example for all these kids, both guys and girls, who look up to me and other athletes and just continuing to push myself to try and do more and be the best that I can be – I think that that’s the best model I can set for the next generation,” Kauf says.