Ski jumping girls lift-off after long, controversial wait

Agence France-Presse

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Their presence on the international stage has been late in coming, compared to men's ski jumping, which has featured in every Olympics since 1924 in Chamonix, France

READY FOR PRIMETIME. Japan's Sara Takanashi readies to compete in the Women's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual official training at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 9, 2014 in Rosa Khutor, near Sochi. John Macdougall/AFP

ROSA KHUTOR, Russia – From nowhere to the Winter Olympics in just over two years: women’s ski jumping has risen as quickly as athletes fly off the hills.

The women, led by Japanese teen star Sara Takanashi, were out training on Saturday, February 8, ahead of their medal decider on Tuesday, February 11.

But their presence on the international stage has been late in coming, compared to men’s ski jumping, which has featured in every Olympics since 1924 in Chamonix, France.

In 2008, 15 women jumpers even sued the Vancouver organizing committee to get their sport included in the upcoming Winter Games in 2010 – to no avail.

Now at long last, a first historic gold will be decided at the RusSki Gorki ski jumping center on Tuesday.

And the girls are dying to show the world what they can do.

“I am so happy to be here… Finally I’m living now and I don’t have to think in the past or what’s coming in the future: it’s here, it’s now,” US ski jumper Lindsey Van told journalists on Saturday.

“I’m here to enjoy it and I’m enjoying it.”

The 2009 world champion and her compatriot Jessica Jerome, 27, were among those who sued in 2008 and both are now reaping the fruit of their labor.

“I can’t really put it into words, it just feels great and it feels like we belong,” said Jerome.

“We deserve to be here. For us it didn’t seem like it happened that quickly. It was sort of a decade-long battle.”

Before their inclusion in the Games, women were allowed as forerunners for the bigger men’s events, and training opportunities existed – all the women competing in Sochi began jumping long before World Cup races existed.

But it wasn’t until 1999 that the International Ski Federation (FIS) held its first competition for women, who jump on the same hills as the men.

The first world championships were held in 2009 and in 2011-2012, women’s ski jumping got its own World Cup season.

Olympics beckon

In 2011, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) also announced that women’s ski jumping would make its debut in Sochi.

With this recognition has come better funding.

“When I started ski jumping, you were not able to live your life as a ski jumper,” Austrian medal contender Daniela Iraschko-Stolz recalled.

The presence of teen star Takanashi, who has attracted wide attention with her winning streak at the age of 17, has also helped raise the sport’s profile.

Feedback from the ski jumping men has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I’m glad that women have got the chance to compete at the Olympics,” said Japan’s Yuta Watase.

“There are many strong athletes among them and I believe they will improve the level of their performances day by day.

“I’ve been skiing with women pretty much throughout my whole life and it’s exciting that they are going to be here,” added US jumper Nicholas Fairall.

“Women are competing along with men in other sports. Why shouldn’t they be in our sport as well?”

Austrian coach Alexander Pointner, who has overseen a successful men’s team for years, recalled training one of the trailblazers in women’s ski jumping, Eva Ganster, almost 20 years ago.

“Already then she fought for better recognition. I know how hard she trained and one day she flew farther than us and I knew: ‘That’s it, the women are really going to make it’. But it took a while.”

“When I now watch the women’s competitions, the level’s really great, they have very exciting events, there isn’t just one athlete who you know will deliver a great performance.”

“Now at their first Olympics… it’s going to be really exciting.

“I think it’s absolutely right that it’s finally an Olympic discipline.” –

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