Grace Dent: Snowboarder Jenny Jones gave such a brilliant display of young womanhood that I’m glad Britain didn’t boycott Sochi

This is a femininity we rarely see on screen. It’s only really allowed during the Olympics


During the women’s Slopestyle snowboarding runs on Sunday my sang froid over Sochi 2014 melted slightly. Not wholly. Over the past 12 months I would gladly have supported David Cameron, Helen Grant MP and various BBC commentators in telling Putin to shove his “gays will be tolerated, just leave our kids alone” mantra where the winter sun does not set.

Let’s boycott Sochi entirely, I thought. Pull all Team GB out. Confiscate their skis. Take away those sweepy-sweep implements for that ice-rink polishing game that only 12 women in Gretna understand. What a Sochi boycott might solve or accomplish I had no solid answer to, aside from my base, non-cerebral belief that in the face of blatant homophobia - or anti-semitism, or racism  - it is always better to deliver a crisp clear “F*** you”, than an “Ooh, you are awful”.

However, preventing Jenny Jones from snowboarding for Great Britain as she did this weekend would not – I’m quite sure  – deter the likes of gutter-dwelling numbskull Katya Zigunova – seen on Channel 4’s excellent documentary Hunted –  from staging one of her homophobic “safaris”. The ones where Katya lures gay men to be beaten and violated by thugs.

Katya’s ideas of gender, sexuality and “normality” are medieval. Her beliefs about what a woman’s life is limited to or what a “real man” should be is formed by thousands of years of closed minds and religious bigotry. The fact that, into this knuckle-dragging mess, the BBC sent one of our national-treasure lesbians – Clare Balding - to be one of the lynchpins of proceedings vibrated with a rather delicious irony.

And as I watched Jenny Jones and the other women compete I thought that we may have lost face in the battle against homophobia –  as I write there has been no volte face from Sochi’s mayor Anatoly Packhomov over his ‘there are no homosexual citizens in Sochi’ comedy routine – but there are gains for civilisation in other forms. Because when Jones and women like her take the world’s stage dressed in clothes so padded that no outline of their figures or elements of their flesh can be seen, they fly in the face of everything we know to be crucial about women in the pubic eye.

They are sexless, risk-loving and, crucially, fully-clothed. These are fearless, wantonly prize-driven, stubbornly danger-loving women who have often eschewed marriage and maternal instincts for a greater purpose that really only they understand. This is a femininity we rarely see on screen. We allow it really only during the Olympics and then with the quashing of the flame we’re satisfied once again by Miley Cyrus “pushing the boundaries” of what a woman can be by appearing nude or simulating sex with a PVC-clad dwarf.

I enjoyed the interview on Radio 4 with Jones’s mother yesterday as she admitted that Jenny hadn’t even told her parents that she’d started snowboarding until the point she was competing and winning prizes. Jones simply went on holiday to a ski resort and never came back. Her mother  brims with pride about her daughter’s lifestyle now, but I empathised with the idea of a young woman who dreamed far outside of the box of what her gender should achieve and felt no-body would really comprehend.

Jones will go down in the record books as the first British athlete to win a medal on snow in 90 years of Winter Olympic history. At 33, she is the oldest Slopestyle competitor, having supported herself through this long journey by working in a doughnut shop, a bar and a cardboard factory. Jones has weathered a serious back injury and ligament damage only to return again and again because she just loves mountains, cold weather and the feeling of being slightly superhuman.

We could have stopped her visiting Sochi as a two-fingers aloft to the homophobes, but in that minor gain would have come at the expense of seeds of goodness. Of course we could always still boycott the curling. It’s just housework and squealing anyway. No wonder it’s popular with women.

Read more:
BBC receives more than 300 complaints over Jenny Jones snowboarding commentary
That’s our Jenny Jones - the first British snow angel


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