Cleared for takeoff: Women soar in first ever Olympic ski jumping event

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 12 2014 1:28 p.m. MST

USA's Jessica Jerome makes her trial jump in the women's ski jumping normal hill final at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

Matthias Schrader, ASSOCIATED PRESS

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Only Germany’s Carina Vogt could stand on the top step of the podium, her fist in the air, as history’s first Olympic champion of women’s ski jumping.

The more important victory, however, belonged to all of the women competing in the inaugural event at RusSki Gorki Jumping Center Tuesday night.

That’s because before they fought against each other for the first-ever Olympic medals in their sport, they fought together against those who refused to let them participate.

“We can call ourselves Olympians now, and I couldn’t do that yesterday,” said American Lindsey Van after finishing 15th in Tuesday’s historic event. “I’m happy I stuck around, and I didn’t think I would see this day. So the fact that the Olympics have happened, and I am actually at a high enough level that I can be here is, well, I impress myself.”

The laughter that followed her joke indicated a shift in Van and the sport. They are no longer the tragic story of people left out and discriminated against simply because of their gender. After fighting in every way possible, including a lawsuit, the women are now simply athletes competing for their country like all their fellow Olympic teammates.

“It was a great experience,” said a playful Van after watching Vogt surprise just about everyone. “The best experience ever, a lot of emotion. I’m surprised I didn’t cry. I only fell over skiing, so that was a plus.”

While the 22-year-old Vogt, who earned 247.4 points for her two jumps, celebrated, the heavy gold-medal favorite was heartbroken. Japan's Sara Takanashi, 17, had been battling it out with Daniela Iraschko-Stolz throughout the training sessions. The 30-year-old Austrian Iraschko-Stolz managed to earn silver with 246.2 points, but Takanashi finished fourth earning 243 points, while France’s Coline Mattel earned bronze with 245.2 points.

“I can’t find the right words,” said Vogt, who’s never won a World Cup, finishing second four times — twice to Takanashi. “I’m just speechless because training yesterday was not so good. Now I’ve improved today. … I wouldn’t have imagined (the win) one day before.”

Neither would anyone else — although Van said she saw it in the fall.

Last year Takanashi and American Sarah Hendrickson battled back and forth and were often No. 1 and 2. Takanashi won the overall World Cup title, while Hendrickson won the world championship.

Hendrickson said she felt for her rival for missing out on a medal.

“I’m very surprised,” she said. “The Olympics is an amazing event that tests the toughness of the mind. You can train for years and years and years and years, but it’s those 10 seconds that you have to be strongest mentally. … I’m pretty bummed out for her because I just want her to know how amazing she really is.”

Hendrickson’s victory was simply being physically capable of competing in the games after she tore both her ACL and MCL in August. She said she realized during training that just participating was going to have to be enough.

“I’m just proud to be here and proud to be part of this first one,” she said. Hendrickson had no World Cup points so she jumped first — usually not something an athlete would consider an honor.

In this case, she was thrilled once she realized what it meant.

“I was the first woman to jump in the Olympics,” she said. “It’s an honor to open up this competition for the 29 girls behind me, and I think we put on an awesome show tonight.”