Like her brother, Annika Malacinski dreams of going to the Olympics in Nordic combined.
As wintry weather settled in at the Olympic Jumping Complex and Mount Van Hoevenberg last fall, she and Niklas trained together in this tiny town that hosted the 1980 and 1932 Winter Olympics.
The siblings fearlessly took flight off a ski jump and relentlessly pushed themselves on paved paths in roller skis alongside other Olympic hopefuls. Through it all, 20-year-old Annika knew she had no shot at competing in China in February.
Nordic combined, which combines ski jumping and cross-country skiing, is the only Olympic sport without gender equity: There is no women's competition at the Games.
“I think it’s absurd that one person can fulfill his dreams this upcoming year and one just has to keep pushing for it to be in 2026," she said.
Niklas Malacinski, who like his sister holds US-Finnish dual citizenship, agreed.
“It isn't right," he said. “Even though we're both in the same sport, it's hard to talk about goals with her because I don't want to make it sound like I'm bragging about what I have a chance to do, and she does not."
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The 18-year old Malacinski finished sixth at the U.S. trials and just missed being one of five Americans competing in Nordic combined in China. Perhaps at the Milan-Cortina Games in 2026, the sister and brother from Steamboat Springs, Colorado, will both have a chance to go for gold.
The International Olympic Committee executive board considered an application in 2018 that would have allowed women to compete in Nordic combined at the Beijing Games. After discussions with the International Ski Federation, the application was denied.
“The inclusion of any women’s events in the Olympic Games are really important in promoting gender equality, but they also need to be at a level appropriate to be included in the Olympic Games and contesting an Olympic medal," IOC sports director Kit McConnell said in 2018. “We have seen developments in that regard. But I think there was a general feeling that further development in terms of the universality, the competitiveness of the event, and the attractiveness and following of it needed to needed to be seen before that discussion could happen again for 2026."
Talks will resume later this year. In June, the IOC executive board is expected to decide on an application to give women access to Olympic gold in Nordic combined in 2026.
Women in the sport, and advocates for their participation in the Olympics, are optimistic about the chances for inclusion in Italy. More than 30 female athletes are competing this winter at the highest level of the sport after the debut World Cup season for women a year ago.
“I’ll be surprised if we’re not able to bring them in, although you never know," FIS Nordic combined race director Lasse Ottesen said recently in an interview with The Associated Press. “We've seen fantastic development the last two years. We have more and more nations taking part, and the athletes have developed in very fast to get to a good level. All the boxes have been checked from our point of view.
“Gender equity is important for the IOC, and FIS, and by bringing Nordic combined in that would complete the program in the Olympics."
While the IOC will likely face another round of questions and criticism when the Games begin with women shut out in Nordic combined, the governing body is proud to point to improvements made toward gender equality.
The IOC said the Beijing Games will set new marks for female competitors and women's sports based on decisions its executive board made in 2018, increasing participation to 45% from 41% four years ago.
Mixed team formats, such as one in ski jumping, were added to provide women with more opportunities, and sports such as speed skating now have as many women as men competing for the first time at the Olympics.
Tara Gerhaghty-Moats isn't in the mood to celebrate.
Gerhaghty-Moats won the first World Cup Nordic combined competition for women in December 2020 after being a two-time champion of the second-tier Continental Cup. She was disheartened that the rest of the debut season's events were canceled during the pandemic and were not rescheduled as some of the men's competitions were.
Last spring, she switched to biathlon.
“Being in Nordic combined showed me the underbelly of what the Olympics is all about, which is not a pristine image," Gerhaghty-Moats told AP. “FIS does not have a lot of power over the IOC, and no one holds the IOC accountable."
Earlier this month, women and men competed together in the first World Cup mixed team event in Nordic combined. Annika Malacinski teamed up with Alexa Brabec, Taylor Fletcher and Jared Shumate to put the Americans sixth of eight nations in Italy.
She lamented the gender inequity that will force her and other women to wait and hope they will have a chance to live their dreams in four years.
“I think it’s insane that we are living in the 20th century and we are still experiencing inequality not only in our daily lives, but over a sport that we put our souls into,” she said. “Doesn’t feel good at all. As much as I love Nordic combined, it’s absolutely awful having to fight with other girls on my side to get it out to the world how we are the only Olympic sport that doesn’t have both men and women in the games for no reason at all.”