Wind resistance will be a breeze for female ski jumpers compared with the pushback they encountered trying to get into the Olympics. Although men have been flying down steep slopes at the Games since the first Winter Olympics in 1924, women were grounded — until the Sochi Games.
"We just wanted to be recognized as athletes who ski jumped and not some freak show doing something that was so crazy and weird and being told to go away," says 29-year-old American Lindsey Van, a longtime advocate for her sport who in 2009 became the first female ski-jumping world champion.
The International Olympic Committee had argued that there weren't enough women or countries participating at a high enough level to justify its inclusion. One official even said that jumping thousands of times was "not appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view." "It was so ridiculous," Van says, adding that people would ask "if my uterus had fallen out yet."
Jessica Jerome, who won the U.S. Olympic Trials, was part of a group that lost a lawsuit to get into the 2010 Vancouver Games. "Now there's a level of respect that we get from our male counter-parts," says Jerome, 27. "For a while, we really felt like the unwanted little sisters."
But as Van and Jerome were clearing the way, two teenagers soared past them. Japan's Sara Takanashi, 17, has won 10 World Cup events this season. "She's very aggressive and is head and shoulders above the crowd," says NBC analyst Jeff Hastings. Takanashi has said she looks up to U.S. jumper Sarah Hendrickson, 19, who won the 2013 world title. Hendrickson crashed and blew out her knee during training in August but has recovered enough to be included on the roster.
Though women only compete in one event (the smaller "normal" hill) compared to three for men, Jerome and Van both expressed relief that they can finally take off in the Olympics. "I think there is a mentality out there that ski jumping is an all-boys thing," Jerome says, "and I'm just really glad that we're starting to change that."
Women's ski jumping will shown live on Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 1:30 p.m./ET on NBCSN and nbcolympics.com, and on tape-delay at 8/7c on NBC.