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US Women's Ski Jumping Makes Olympic Debut

U.S. ski jumpers Jessica Jerome, Sarah Hendrickson and Lindsey Van speak to the media in Sochi, Feb. 10, 2014. (Parke Brewer/VOA)
U.S. ski jumpers Jessica Jerome, Sarah Hendrickson and Lindsey Van speak to the media in Sochi, Feb. 10, 2014. (Parke Brewer/VOA)
Parke Brewer
Women's ski jumping is set to make its Olympic debut at the Sochi Winter Games in Russia. 

It's been a long, hard battle, but the women will finally get to display their talents.
 
Men have been gliding down the long, steep slippery ramps and into the air above specially sloped landing hills since the first Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France in 1924.
 
In recent years, female ski jumpers had waged an ongoing battle to get their sport into the Games. They had petitioned to join every Winter Olympics since 1998 in Nagano, Japan.  
 
One of the problems was that in 1991 when the International Olympic Committee decided that all future sports had to be open to both males and females, the ruling did not apply to existing sports. And many thought ski jumping was too dangerous for women and that there were not enough competitors.
 
As recently as 2006, the IOC said it had nothing to do with discrimination.  It just did not believe that women had enough technical skills.

So a group of top women ski jumpers filed a suit in 2008. But they lost their bid to get their sport included in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.  Four years later, they will officially take the stage.

Not only that, they will do it in dramatic fashion, vying for the gold medal under floodlights Tuesday night at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center in the mountains above Sochi.

U.S. ski jumpers Jessica Jerome, Sarah Hendrickson and Lindsey Van speak to the media in Sochi, Feb. 10, 2014. (Parke Brewer/VOA)U.S. ski jumpers Jessica Jerome, Sarah Hendrickson and Lindsey Van speak to the media in Sochi, Feb. 10, 2014. (Parke Brewer/VOA)
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U.S. ski jumpers Jessica Jerome, Sarah Hendrickson and Lindsey Van speak to the media in Sochi, Feb. 10, 2014. (Parke Brewer/VOA)
U.S. ski jumpers Jessica Jerome, Sarah Hendrickson and Lindsey Van speak to the media in Sochi, Feb. 10, 2014. (Parke Brewer/VOA)
 The first world champion in the sport in 2009, American Lindsey Van, said now that the fight for inclusion is over, it's time for the fans to see what it's all about.  "You know I just want more people to see that women can ski jump. It's taken 90 years for women to be here, so check us out. I'm just thrilled to show ski jumping to the world and that women can do it too," she told reporters.
 
The undisputed favorite is Japan's Sara Takanashi, who is only 17 years old and stands just 150 centimeters tall. She has dominated the World Cup circuit over the past two seasons.  Reigning world champion, 19-year-old American Sarah Hendrickson who recently returned from a bad knee injury, admires how Takanashi deals with the expectations on her.
 
"I struggle with the pressure and how that affects my ski jumping and she just brushes it off like it's no problem, so I look up to her with that and the mental side of things. So I am expecting her to continue that through this event in Sochi and she's a very tough competitor," Hendrickson added.
 
For now, the women ski jumpers have only one event, the normal hill. American Jessica Jerome said she hopes they might eventually have three Olympic events like the men. "I know that with any new sport you are sort of taking baby steps and I really appreciate that we're here and that we have our one event," she explained. "And I really hope that in the future we have a big hill event and a team event."
 
At close to midnight Tuesday in Sochi, the first women's Olympic ski jump medalist will be crowned -- and make history.

Click here to see VOA's Winter Olympics site

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