Women's ski jumpers make giant leap with first-ever Olympic event

Eric Adelson
Yahoo Sports
Jessica Jerome of the U.S. soars through the air during her trial jump in the women's ski jumping individual normal hill event at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Centre, in Rosa Khutor February 11, 2014. (REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)
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Photos of the day from 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics - February 11, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Thirty women made history Tuesday by flying through the air. One created an unforgettable Olympic moment when she fell to the ground.

Carina Vogt, the German ski jumper whose coach admitted there were no expectations of winning the first women's ski jump in Olympic history, collapsed in tears when she saw her name at the top of the scoreboard at the end of the night. She crumpled to a knee, then two, then to her back as teammates jumped on top of her in celebration. Vogt sobbed, gloves to her face, for several minutes as she lay in the snow. She is the first woman ever to win an Olympic gold medal in ski jumping.

[Photos: Women's ski jumping makes debut]

In the press conference afterward, Vogt looked like she was holding back even more tears.

"It's unbelievable," Vogt said through a translator. "I don't believe it even now."

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She shook her head and looked down.

"I need to see pictures," Vogt said, "because maybe I'll believe it."

The entire event was emotional: There was American Sarah Hendrickson making the first-ever women's jump in Olympic competition despite knee pain that gives her trouble walking. There was Japan's Sara Takanashi admitting after finishing fourth that "Today, I realized my mental weakness." There was Norway's Line Jahr confessing, "My stomach was hurting all day" from nerves. There was Finland's Julia Kykkaenen sighing and saying, "My head is empty at the moment."

[Photos: Best of #SochiProblems]

Competitive ski jumping has been going on for more than 150 years, and Tuesday it seemed sillier than ever that women are making their Olympic debut only now. It was less than a decade ago that International Ski Federation President Gian-Franco Kasper deemed women's ski jumping "not to be appropriate from a medical point of view." Lindsey Van, who, like every other competitor on Tuesday, landed both of her jumps without any trouble, heard arguments against inclusion as preposterous as "our uteruses will fall out."

Van, for all those who still think ski jumping is for men only, is the Detroit-born daughter of a former Ford worker who transported iron ore for a living. She can leg-press 640 pounds. Asked how she does it, Van's response was blunt:

"You push until it moves."

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That's what all of these women did: push the establishment until it moved. It took many years and much frustration from bureaucratic inertia, but they are here – Olympians who grew up with an impossible dream and still made it happen.

[Photos: Meet the medal winners from Team USA]

"It is so good to jump in front of so many spectators," said Bigna Windmueller of Switzerland. "The whole atmosphere makes you happy. It's not just one moment. It's everything together."

She then grinned as she went on about the feeling of jumping: "You don't see much. The rest of the world is somewhere else. You just jump into white. There's nothing there."

There is nothing there now: no resistance anymore. Many will be back in four years, and maybe four years after that. Many will one day have daughters and granddaughters who will jump with the same dreams and perhaps even farther distances. Tuesday is the day history will remember: 30 women climbed a steep hill and floated down to Earth.

"I feel free when I fly," said Canadian Taylor Henrich. "I can go as far as I want."

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