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Keep the Female Category in 4-Way

Synchronicity winning 2001 World Air Games collage
Synchronicity winning 2001 World Air Games collage

I was one of those on the “head of the spear” in 2000-2001, on the first US 4-way team to compete in a World Cup and a World Championships in the Female category. It was an amazing experience of a lifetime, and I believe the female category has changed our sport for the better. It was not easy gaining acceptance from meet organizers. They worried that we were not committed and serious. That’s understandable! What surprised and saddened me was the objections from fellow jumpers. And it seems there are still mixed opinions!

Here are the objections that I encountered.

1. We don’t want second-rate medals!

The most outspoken opposition at the time came from (some) female skydivers. “We don't want medals with ‘asterisks’! We can do anything the boys can do!” My question to them was, “How many Open Class medals do you have now?” You will never earn them watching Open Class from the ground, which is what you’re doing now. It makes a lot more sense to take action, to jump and hone your skills, than to sit there wishing and hoping for an Open Class team to pick you. I think you might be waiting for… like…forever. If you’re not seriously training and competing in Open Class already, you won’t even be on their radar.

The female category provides an arena for women to jump alongside these top open class teams, proving their capabilities at the top level. That’s a much more likely ticket to an open class team, if that’s your goal.

Some of these women competed in Advanced Class, and in 10-way…these events have asterisks! Ask Lindsey Vonn, the winningest ski racer in history, if she is ashamed of her female gold medals and crystal globes.

Get your team together and get in the game! You can debate the theory if you want, but you are still watching from the sidelines. Get in the game!

2. “The female category is easier!”

From (some) men…“They get medals that they don’t have to earn like the men do!” Although this was never said to me directly, I have overheard this line of thinking in several sports that I have competed in, skydiving included, as well as in my professional career. There are lots of high hurdles for everyone in skydiving, especially in competition, and just like other sports. We all must overcome hurdles.

I get it that the sheer number of male vs. female participants makes it look easier for women. But, would you like to compare hurdles? There are some daunting obstacles to women even arriving at the drop zone for the first jump, much less jumping enough to succeed in competition.

Men are, in practice, the gatekeepers in team competition, and I guarantee you that every open class team that gives any consideration to a female team member contemplates liabilities, imagined or real.

The women in the female category are beating themselves up on long jump days and nights at the tunnel, living in relative poverty, and sacrificing other ares of their lives, just like the men. There is no easy road to a medal.

My teammates and I, and any other female category competitor that I have encountered, never pretended that our performance was technically equal to Airspeed, or any other Open Class champion team. Our performance was merely the best at that moment among female category teams.

But, guess what? Each of the men on Airspeed at the World Air Games in 2001 took the trouble, individually, to come by our team room, or later at social hour, to tell us that we jumped a top-notch meet, in some respects better than they felt they had done. A competitive performance might be measured by a point score and, in the end, that’s how medals are awarded, but there is also the heart, the focus, and the sheer determination to identify the path with the best odds for victory and do what it takes.

A female category allows women to compete against women. I don’t think anyone can say with a straight face that women and men “are the same” or (sillier) that women have some sort of special competitive advantage. I can’t think of too many other legitimate physical contests that pit women against men.

I have heard the (ridiculous) argument that “we’re just falling through the air”, so physical strength does not count. That can only be said by someone who’s never done more than a 10 average! Formation skydiving requires a lot of explosive power, strength, endurance, and aggression to be faster and better than the other teams. Let’s not waste time arguing that women and men are equal in these qualities. I have jumped with the boys and I have jumped with the girls - it’s different.

Synchronicity with Pete Allum covering for Lilac, as no females of sufficient standard! — by Michael McGowan
Synchronicity with Pete Allum covering for Lilac, as no females of sufficient standard! — by Michael McGowan

3 “It's not worth the cost for such small numbers”

The only rational argument that can be made is about the cost of maintaining a relatively smaller category. But, let’s check the numbers, shall we? At the World Championships in 2014, there were more 4-Way Female teams than 4-Way VFS teams or 8-way teams. There were more participants in the 4-Way Female category than in the categories of 4-Way VFS or Freestyle, and an equal number to Freeflying.

Why pick on 4-Way Female? Fair is fair. Do we cut everything but 4-Way Open? Or should every category be required to have at least 20 teams registered to have a meet? Those answers could be yes only if our goal is to shrink our sport, stifle competition, and discourage meet organizers from hosting because the team fee base is unknown and shrinking.

Speed Skydiving has been around the DZ's for over 20 years, and it's now an FAI World Cup event. That was never my thing, but I would never spend a single second arguing that they shouldn't be allowed to compete. As long as there are enough participants to make it a real test, why not? How does it harm anyone else's competitive experience having them in the meet?

International competition is a grand experience due to the number and variety of participants. How would it be improved by cutting those numbers? I don’t think we’ve reached a place where numbers must be limited to ensure a good experience.

And can anyone seriously say the cost of any one category is so high that teams are forced out of the meet due to the entry fee? I doubt it.

Arguments for the Female 4-way Category

Growing FS Competition

The female category brings in more participants, which makes formation skydiving competition a stronger, more financially viable event. It widens the pool so that there are more qualified candidates for teams of any gender.

Without the Female Category, would the Army be funding GK4? Probably not. Their techniques and training provides a template for any team to follow and they can probably teach the men a few things about success.

Media Engagement

I saw with my own eyes that having females competing in a predominantly male arena gets a lot more attention and engagement, both inside the competition skydiving world, and outside in the general public.

Having women in the competition adds a story. Now it’s not just Danish-T/Murphy, it’s human struggle to overcome odds, bravery in the face of opposition, overcoming social stereotypes.

The media and viewers eat this up, which = $$$$ for skydivers.
More money from new participants pays for airplanes, pilots and facilities.
More cameras come out to cover the action, attracting more advertisers wanting to buy time and sponsors looking to PAY athletes to represent them to the viewers.
So, what’s not to like here?

Stepping Stone to Open 4-way

When top level teams are looking for new candidates, competitive quality sits on the top of their shopping list. Techniques can be taught and practiced, but mind-set and focus are not readily teachable.

If we (USA Synchronicity) had not had the chance to compete in the World Cup in 2000 and World Air Games in 2001, it’s pretty darn unlikely that Eliana Rodriguez would have gone on to inspire the world for a decade with her exceptional performance on Airspeed, the most visible force in formation skydiving. We had to argue with her for hours just to get her to agree to jump with us instead of finishing school! I’m sure we seemed crazy to her at the time!

Bottom line…if the female category is shut down…that won’t get you a slot on Airspeed. The female category does not effect the odds or the degree of difficulty for men in any way. Don’t get mad…cheer the women on! And they might just be future team mates on your championship team!

Keep the Female Category.

Get your team together - of any gender! - and go compete.