Sochi 2014: Women's Ski Jumping Lives Up to Hype in Thrilling Olympic Debut

Joe Menzer@@OneMenzFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2014

Carina Vogt of Germany flew high to the first Olympic gold medal in women's ski jump history.
Carina Vogt of Germany flew high to the first Olympic gold medal in women's ski jump history.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Bravo, female ski jumpers, bravo. Take a collective bow.

In a drama-filled, high-flying Olympic event that was long, long overdue, the first women's ski jump competition in the history of the Winter Games took place Tuesday in Sochi and did not disappoint.

It didn't go according to the script most had predicted, with Germany's Carina Vogt edging Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria for the gold medal on the final jump of the competition. Iraschko-Stolz was left with the silver and Coline Mattel of France took the bronze, with heavy pre-race favorite Sara Takanashi, the World Cup leader in the sport, left in disappointing fourth.

For the United States, Jessica Jerome performed a bit better than expected and finished 10th, taking some of the edge of disappointment off the finishes of Lindsey Van (15th) and reigning world champion Sarah Hendrickson, who limped home in 21st on a bum knee that would have kept a lesser competitor sidelined completely.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 11: Sarah Hendrickson of the United States jumps during the Ladies' Normal Hill Individual first round on day 4 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center on February 11, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Phot
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It was the unpredictable nature of the affair that added to its deliciousness.

This was about more than medals or raw results. This was about history finally being made in such a way that it only underscored the injustice of the exclusion of women's ski jump in all previous Olympics.

The men's ski jump was added to the Winter Games menu in 1924. But through a maddening and, over time, absolutely incomprehensible series of sexist-based decisions by the International Olympic Committee, the women's ski jump was excluded time and time again until this year.

Van theorized in a pre-Olympics interview with the Boston Globe that it took so long in large part because of the small gap in distances being posted world-wide by men and women, making officials reluctant to add the women's portion of the event. Others, including Jerome, pointed out in the Globe article that the women start from a higher gate and actually gain more speed going down the in-run, plus their body mass usually is lighter, allowing them to fly higher and farther.

The counter-points made by the women competitors, more careful in thought, rendered all gender-event comparisons absolutely senseless.

Van told the Globe: "I think ski jumping was just traditional and male-dominated and they didn't want women coming to the party."

She called arguments made against it over the years "ridiculous" and "comical." During pre-event interviews to the Globe and others, she often made the point that she heard arguments suggesting a woman who competed would be at greater risk to injury and that, in fact, her uterus might even fall out during the heat of competition.

Alas, the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center venue at Sochi was not left scattered with any missing uteri following Tuesday's inaugural event.

There is more to be done, of course.

In this Olympics, the women could only compete in the normal hill event. Their male counterparts also get to compete in large hill and team normal hill events.

Some men simply are slower than others to come to their senses. Or to even possess a shred of common sense.

Russian men's ski jumping coach Alexander Arefyev would be one such man. He told the Russian newspaper Izvestia that he did not advocate women's ski jumping, adding in the interview translated and republished by "It is quite a heavy and traumatic sport. If a man were seriously injured, it is not fatal, but for all women may end up far worse."

Then he said he would never permit his daughter to participate in such an activity. "Women have a different purpose -- to have children, do housework, to create a family home," Arefyev concluded.

What a guy. Welcome to the 21st century, Coach Arefyev, and praise the Lord you have no daughters.

To understand the full magnitude of what transpired Tuesday, take a closer look at Hendrickson's effort. The reigning world champion suffered a terrible knee injury at an event in August, tearing both her anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. She had surgery eight days later.

Yet within five months, she was ready to try competing at Sochi. According to USA Today, the 19-year-old spent six to eight hours a day, six days a week in physical therapy at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association's Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah, leading up to her return.

She knew when she arrived in Sochi that she wasn't close to being ready to compete at her best. But she wasn't going to miss out on the chance to be a part of history.

When Hendrickson learned that she would go first on the opening run of the competition, she was overjoyed. She explained on Twitter the significance of her journey to Sochi and the satisfaction it would give her no matter where she placed in the competition.

That alone was an honor, one that no one can ever take away from Hendrickson. Under the unique circumstances of the day, it might even be worth more than a medal.


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