PARK CITY — They dreamed about competing in the Olympics long before officials would let them. They fought for acceptance in ways other athletes never had to consider.
And in the very place where Jessica Jerome, Lindsey Van and Sarah Hendrickson fell in love with ski jumping, they finally earned the right to call themselves Olympians. Their nomination was announced at a press conference Wednesday afternoon at the Utah Olympic Park in their home town of Park City.
“It’s a big relief to get the sport into the Olympics, at the same time, you have to make the team,” said Van, 29, who was overcome with emotion at one point in the press conference. “The political battle first. The athletic one next. It’s been a rollercoaster, up and down, and a battle the whole time.”
Jerome, 26, earned her spot on the historic inaugural U.S. team on Dec. 29 when she won the team’s selection event at Utah Olympic Park. Van and Hendrickson didn’t get official word on their nominations until Wednesday morning.
Nick Alexander (Lebanon, N.H.), Nick Fairall (Andover, N.H.), Peter Frenette (Saranac Lake, N.Y.) and Anders Johnson (Park City) were nominated to compete for the U.S. men's team.
Luke Bodensteiner, U.S. Ski and Snowboard Associations executive vice president who overseas athletics, said nominating an Olympic team is always a proud moment.
"This is one of the proudest of one of those proud moments," said Bodensteiner. "We're also particularly proud of the performance of the three women we have here today. Through their unwavering personal dedication, they have progressed their sport over the past four years to a point where it's undoubtedly and undebatably worthy of the medals that will be handed out in Sochi."
In fact, the competition has become so fierce in the sport that the U.S. found out on Sunday it had only qualified for three Olympic spots, instead of the four most everyone had assumed would be theirs. There is a slim possibility that one more woman could be named to the team, but officials won't know that until Thursday.
The change in available spots stems from the IOC's decision to limit the number of women jumpers competing to 30. At most World Cup competitions, there are at least 40 women competing.
Jerome said she understood the cap as Olympic officials only wanted "the best of the best" but she hoped future competitions would not be capped in that way.
Head coach Alan Alborn said the women really began their efforts to make the 2014 team in July of 2012. Hendrickson qualified based on her 2013 season, which included winning the World Championship. She said she'd been jumping on snow for a couple of weeks, and while she has some pain, "It's nothing that's going to stop me."
"When I crashed back in August, I laid at the bottom of the hill and kind of thought everything was over, my dreams of becoming an Olympian for this year were over," Hendrickson said.
After talking with doctors in Park City, she said she decided "to put my head down and work as hard as I could, every single day, until this day so that I could try and make my dreams come true. I’m here accomplishing one of the hardest things I’ve ever set out to do.”
Her teammates were impressed with her determination.
“I’ve never seen someone work as hard as I watched Sarah come back from that injury,” Jerome said. “The only thing that worried me was when it comes to hard work, it’s never a question for Sarah because she will always put in the work. But an injury is about more then hard work. You can work as had as you want, but your body has to respond. And I’m thrilled that hers did, and that she’s back and will be joining us.”
Hendrickson wouldn’t have had a goal to strive for if it wasn’t for the efforts of her older teammates. Jerome and Van led the fight to have women's ski jumping added to the Olympic program, even signing on as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against VANOC, the 2010 Olympic organizing committee for the Vancouver Games.
“Jess and Lindsey put so much work into it,” Hendrickson said of the fight for inclusion. “They just wanted to ski jump 10 years ago, and they had to fight for this. I’m so thank for them. I can’t thank them enough. To be walking into the opening ceremonies with them is a huge honor. I really can’t put into words how much it means to me.”
Alborn acknowledged this inaugural competition is about more than who makes the podium. It’s about savoring, and acknowledging, the work that went into their opportunity in Sochi.
“Regardless of who comes home with a medal or who doesn’t on Feb. 11, all of these girls, even the rest of the team, they deserve a medal hung around their necks for what they’ve done for the sport,” he said.
Van laughed about getting emotional during the press conference saying the magnitude of the moment simply overwhelmed her.
“I’m just excited,” she said. “I just want to get over three, have two good jumps, show everbody our sport of ski jumping. And I’m excited to do that – finally.”
And then she held up her arms, and grinning, she said, “I’m going to the Olympics!”
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