Women's Normal Hill Ski Jumping Olympics 2014: Potential Stars in Debut Event

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2014

American Jessica Jerome displays proper form during a practice jump at the Sochi Games.
American Jessica Jerome displays proper form during a practice jump at the Sochi Games.Nathan Bilow-USA TODAY Sports

If your goal is to fall a couple of hundred feet through the air and still make a smooth landing with no parachute, your best bet is to become a ski jumper. The event has been around long enough to immortalize the "agony of defeat" on ABC's "Wide World of Sports," but women have never competed in Olympic ski jumping prior to the 2014 Games in Sochi. 

Three women will climb the medal stand and claim Olympic hardware, but all 30 female competitors will make history, and these five jumpers are set to shine.

While men's ski jumping entails different events on a different length of hill, the women only jump on the normal hill, which is still a robust 95 meters (312 feet) from the desired landing point. We preview the top names in the event and provide all the info you need to get set for women's ski jumping.

When: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 12:30 p.m. ET

Where: RusSki Gorki Jumping Center, Krasnaya Polyana, Russia (approx. 40 miles from Sochi)

Watch: Live on NBCSN, 1:30 to 3 p.m. ET; tape-delayed on NBC in the 8 to 11:30 p.m. broadcast

Live Stream: NBCOlympics.com and NBC's Live Extra

Lindsey Van

At 29 years old, Lindsey Van is one of the burgeoning sport's elders. She took first at the inaugural women's ski jumping world championships in 2009, but it was a long road for women to travel just to compete in the event. 

As president of the International Ski Federation Gian-Franco Kasper told NPR's Brian Mann in 2005: "It's like jumping down from, let's say, about two meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view."

Van stated, per Liz Clarke of The Washington Post: "I've had people ask me had my uterus fallen out yet. I heard that multiple times; it was comical. And embarrassingnot so much for me but for whoever said it."

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

It's an interesting claim with absolutely no medical backing whatsoever, but women have been ski jumping for generations outside of the Olympiad. In fact, Van was one of the few test jumpers on the ski jumping course at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, according to NBC's Greg Ferraro

While she will be competing against a slew of younger competitors in Sochi, it's fitting that one of the sport's pioneers will help kick off the new event.

Sara Takanashi 

Sara Takanashi is just 17 years old, but the gold-medal favorite strikes fear into the hearts of competitors with her victories in 10 different World Cup events this season.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 09:  Sara Takanashi of Japan prepares for her jump during the Ladies' Normal Hill Individual Ski Jumping training on day 2 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics  at RusSki Gorki Jumping Center on February 9, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (P
Lars Baron/Getty Images

The young woman from Japan stands at only 4'11", but ski jumping is not an event that requires great mass. In fact, that is part of why the previous absence of women from Olympic ski jumping is so puzzling: It is one of the few sports where size and strength do not matter. 

The goal is to display proper form to earn more points from the judges and to make a sail out of the body to catch as much wind and sail as far as possible. With her tiny frame, Takanashi floats the length of a football field as gently as a leaf caught in an updraft. 

Jessica Jerome

Jessica Jerome is a 27-year-old from Jacksonville, Fla., yet she has still managed to collect three national championships in ski jumping. And without her, it could have been that none of the female ski jumpers would be competing in Sochi. 

Jerome's parents took up the sport's cause after their daughter displayed an interest in it. As she relayed per The Washington Post"My dad had the playback of 'the agony of defeat' in his brain and said, 'No!' My mom looked at the brochure and said, '$60 for five weeks! That’s cheaper than babysitting! You’re in!'"

One copy of "Nonprofit Kit for Dummies" later, and her parents had women's ski jumping well on its way to Olympic inclusion. 

Daniela Iraschko-Stolz sails across the Caucasus.
Daniela Iraschko-Stolz sails across the Caucasus.Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Daniela Iraschko-Stolz

As noted by David Ljunggren of Reuters, Austrian Daniela Iraschko-Stolz is an advocate for gay rights, and she married her partner last year, which is where the "Stolz" comes from after the hyphen.

She also pressured Takanashi on the first day of practice by besting the Japanese favorite on two different jumps. Iraschko-Stolz will need to continue such long leaping to stay ahead of the field, but she is on the short list of likely gold medalists. 

Sarah Hendrickson

Sarah Hendrickson is just 19 years old and claimed the 2013 world championship. However, she has endured a significant recovery from a recent severe knee injury. 

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 09: Sarah Hendrickson of United States prepares for her jump during the Ladies' Normal Hill Individual Ski Jumping training on day 2 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center on February 9, 2014 in S
Lars Baron/Getty Images

According to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-TimesHendrickson will be competing in Sochi "less than six months after tearing her ACL, MCL and 80 percent of her meniscus."

Frankly, it is incredible that any athlete could return to competition from such an injury so quickly, let alone be able to fly over 300 feet through the air and make a controlled landing. Apparently the key is a whole lot of Romanian dead lifts, according to Hendrickson. 

With history set to be made on Tuesday, only one of the 30 competitors will claim the first gold in women's ski jumping, but the event is sure to broaden the sport's exposure and appeal in advance of the 2018 Olympics.