KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Try as she might, Jessica Jerome couldn’t convince her eyes and her mind that Tuesday night’s inaugural Olympic women’s ski jumping event was just another competition on the schedule.
“It’s hard not to notice all of this,” Jerome beamed as she told a group of reporters after her 10th-place finish, which led U.S. women ski jumpers on a historic night in the hills above Sochi, Russia.
“I, of course, was trying to zone it out and treat it like any other competition just to keep my nerves down,” Jerome added.
The fact is Tuesday night’s debut of women ski jumpers on the Olympic stage provided plenty of drama on many fronts: Jerome and teammate Lindsey Van, the sport’s first world champion from 2009 who finished 15th Tuesday night, both realized their Olympic dream after so many years of fighting to make it a reality.
"It was the best experience ever. I had a lot of emotion coming in to it. I’m surprised I didn’t cry," Van said. "I feel way better now and more relieved than in any time in my whole career. It’s the first time in my life I’m living in the now and not talking about what I’m going to do. Today made me extremely happy."
Fellow American and 2013 World Champion Sarah Hendrickson, who reached the pinnacle of the sport last season before injuring her knee in August, completed a grueling rehabilitation just to make the Olympic team and to jump in these Games. She finished 21st.
"I think we put on an awesome show tonight and the world saw what we we’ve been working for," Hendrickson said.
"I just wanted to make it to Sochi. Once I was named to the team I wanted more. But after my training jumps this week and after my knee was giving me a lot of hassle I had to step back and talk to my coach and realize a medal might not be a reality," she said. "I’m proud to be here and proud of this one."
At the top of the podium, Germany’s Carina Vogt posted the longest jump of the first round, 103 meters, and then backed it up the second time down with 97.5 to outduel Austrian veteran Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, who uncorked a massive 104.5-meter leap in the second round, for the gold medal. France’s Coline Mattel earned the bronze. Barely two points separated the three medalists, with Japan’s Sara Takanashi, who’s dominated the World Cup standings this year, coming in fourth place.
"I didn’t even think about the fight and history of getting here tonight," Van said. "I’m going forward and my sport is going forward and it's never going to be the same and we can call ourselves Olympians now and I couldn’t do that yesterday."
Every one of the 30 women who started Tuesday’s inaugural Olympic event came out a winner. And yes, there were only three medalists, but Jerome said every woman standing at the top of the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center K95 Normal Hill was happy to see their Olympic dream come true.
“There’s a camaraderie that all of us girls share, even from other countries, because we’ve all been fighting the same fight for so many years. At the top of the jump we’re high-fiving Norwegians and Canadians and Finns. Everyone is just really happy,” she said.
Women’s Olympic Normal Hill Competition
RusSki Gorki Jumping Center (HS 106)
1. Carina Vogt, Germany, 103.0, 97.5; 247.4
2. Daniela Iraschko-Stolz, Austria, 98.5, 104.5; 246.2
3. Coline Mattel, France, 99.5, 97.5; 245.2
4. Sara Takanashi, Japan, 100.0, 98.5; 243.0
5. Evelyn Insam, Italy, 98.5, 99.0; 242.2
10. Jessica Jerome, 97.0, 99.0; 234.1
15. Lindsey Van, 97.0, 94.5; 227.2
21. Sarah Hendrickson, 94.0, 91.5; 217.6